Uncontacted!

A few days ago, a previously unknown group of Kayapo Indians emerged from the forest to contact their relatives in the village of Kremoro. Although it is only 50 kilometres from the Xingu River, the Heart of Brazil Expedition cannot reach the village because there is no access overland or by river.

The first contact was made by two men who approached the house of Bepro, son of one of the Benajures (village chiefs). He went to find out what was causing noises at the back of house late one evening, to find two strange Indians, who beckoned for him to follow them into the forest. He started to follow, and had a brief conversation before becoming frightened. Having gone out without his torch, he was afraid that these were the ‘wild Indians’ he had heard rumours about, and that they were luring him  away from the village to kill him.

Bep’ and Patxom Txucarramae talking abut the arrival of the uncontacted group.Some days later, the unknown Indians came again to the village, making noises behind another house. This time they disappeared back into the forest before anyone could catch a glimpse of them.

Bepro and his brother Beprytire decided, against the advice of the rest of the village, to go into the forest to look for them. They soon found them and had a brief conversation, during which they established that the strange Indians were Kayapo, though they spoke an archaic version of the language. The newcomers were obviously nervous and asked if the other villagers would come after them and kill them. Beprytire answered that the Kayapo today don’t fight with other Indians, and that they would be safe. Nonetheless, the newcomers became more agitated and disappeared again.

When the brothers returned to their village they were greeted with disbelief, so the next night they went out again, this time with an audio recorder. Again they talked to the newcomers, beginning by now to establish a little more trust. The newcomers told them their people were worried because they knew the forest was being destroyed nearer and nearer to their village, and although they had built it under the canopy of the forest, they were afraid they would be discovered and killed.

Young Kayapo Indians listening tensely to the radio.This time when they returned to the village, the brothers had the tantalising sound of the newcomers’ voices to prove they existed. The village was thunderstruck; the old men re-told stories about a split in the village which happened in the 1950s, when three families disappeared into the forest. One family was later accounted for when they were found dead from disease, but the other two disappeared. Could it be that this group was one of those families?

Benajure Megaron Txucarramae was contacted by radio at the regional FUNAI government Indian agency where he is Director, and the village began to try to encourage their new-found relatives to come into the village. Little by little, they enticed the two Indians to come nearer. The two were joined by others, until there were eleven in all.

Eventually the newcomers ventured into the men’s hut in the centre of the village. The people of Kremoro decided that they should make them welcome in the traditional way, so they painted themselves and began to dance. This brought an unexpected reaction; the newcomers broke down and cried. They said that it was as if they were coming back to life after the years of isolation in the forest.

Little by little, the number of people grew.

The next day there were 36.

Today, Kremoro is hosting 86 visitors, all speaking a strange, old-fashioned dialect of their language, all naked, the men with penis sheathes and seven of them with large lip-plates, the women with their heads shaved on top. The newcomers are talking about long-dead relatives who they had left behind, and the villagers of Kremoro are both excited and at the same time pensive. The newcomers are now more confident, but they will still only talk to the two brothers who initiated the contact.

The few people from Kremoro who are in town are glued to the crackly radio which is the only direct communication with the village. When the radio transmitted a recording of the newcomers’ voices and singing they became emotional, some with tears in their eyes, some with faraway expressions.

Puiu Txucarramae, Megaron’s second-in-command, cried out and thumped the table in excitement:
“Everyone was emotional; I was listening, and I said to myself , no, I have to leave, because it was making me…very…very…sad; so I had to leave, because their words were very old-fashioned, very good words with great weight. So I became very emotional, and I had to leave the radio room and stop listening, because I was almost crying.”

Young men from Aldeia Kremoro crowding round the radio for news.Even the young men were emotional. Bep’ Txukarramae: “It’s as if they are the spirits of our ancient ancestors, and because of the courage of our friends who established contact and spoke to them, they have now come back to bring much happiness to our village and our people. My grandparents told me about the time long ago when there was a disagreement in the village, and some of the people ran away into the forest.”

Patxom Txucarramae takes up the story:
“After they separated, one group – our parents – was contacted by the sertanista Orlando Villas Boas. But the other group, which is the one that has appeared now, remained isolated in the forest. It makes me very happy to know that more than forty years later they have survived, and have come back. It’s good to know this, because these are our relatives. They know lots of things that we have forgotten. Their language is much more original than ours. When I heard them talking on the radio I didn’t understand much of what they said, but my uncle understands them much better.”

Benajure Megaron (facing, left) discussing the uncontacted Indians.Megaron is trying hard to avoid the disasters which have occurred with depressing regularity when other tribes have been contacted for the first time. He has ordered an initial ban on all movement into and out of the village, except for a carefully-selected medical team.

Having lived for so many years free from exposure to infections, these people will have no natural immunity to the diseases of the white man. They are particularly vulnerable to measles, influenza, chicken pox and pneumonia, any of which will kill the majority of infected non-immune people within days.  Even the common cold can be a killer.

It is therefore essential that the hard-won trust of these people is not betrayed unwittingly by the introduction of diseases which may wipe them out. The team establishing contact is using all possible measures to prepare for the eventuality of illness, and to build immunity to the most serious disease by an immediate programme of vaccination. This process will continue for many months – even years – and will without doubt involve periods of intensive caring for the newcomers during bouts of illness.

The Indians who have emerged from hiding in the forest face a tough period of adjustment to the realities of modern life, which even for the Kayapo of Aldeia Kremoro is very different from the lives they are about to leave behind. One day, Sue and I hope to visit them, without the worry that we may be harbouring some everyday illness which could be fatal for them. In the meantime, we wish Benajure Bepkyre, his wife Bekwyjmrati and their people all the best at this difficult time.

© Patrick Cunningham


 ⇒Next: Metuktire

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