Predictably, it was not a ‘lost’ tribe

My first reaction when I heard about the discovery of a ‘lost’ Amazonian tribe was: HOAX! Journalists have been fooled before. And lo and behold, I was right. The tribe has been known about since 1910.
“Tribal guardian admits the Amazon Indians’ existence was already known, but he hoped the publicity would lift the threat of logging.”
Read the story in the Observer.

Barry Kavanagh writes fiction, and has made music, formerly with Dacianos.

Contact him here.


  1. If anything, the full story is even more intriguing, though — it’s not like it’s a flat-out hoax.

  2. This isn’t a ‘hoax’ at all. The tribe was and remains ‘uncontacted’: no outsider has been known to have any peaceful contact with its members. This is true of about 100 tribes worldwide. Since the photographs were released, Peru has acknowledged the lands of uncontacted tribes on its side of the border, and sent a team to investigate the illegal logging that threatens their survival.
    Find out more about the world’s uncontacted tribes at and read Survival’s original article at

  3. Matt, you are missing the point.
    There is a difference between
    (a) a ‘lost’ tribe, uncontacted and previously unknown and
    (b) a tribe that does not have any contact with the outside world, ‘uncontacted’ for 100 years, but whose existence has been noted for that length of time.
    José Carlos Meirelles has admitted that he deliberately gave the media the impression that the tribe was unknown i.e. a ‘lost’ tribe, and gave the impression that it was a chance encounter. In fact, the tribe has been known about since 1910 and he sought them out to photograph. Obviously he had good motives for doing this – to highlight the threat due to logging – but that does not change the fact of the hoax. Survival International have also admitted that they knew about the tribe in advance.
    So when you say “This isn’t a ‘hoax’ at all” you are wrong.

  4. Hi Barry,
    I think you may have been misinformed.
    “José Carlos Meirelles has admitted that he deliberately gave the media the impression that the tribe was unknown i.e. a ‘lost’ tribe, and gave the impression that it was a chance encounter.”
    Where did you read this?
    From what I know, a prominent BBC article of the 30th May, when the photo story broke, has Mereilles explaining that:
    “We did the overflight to show their houses, to show they are there, to show they exist,” the group quoted Jose Carlos dos Reis Meirelles Junior, an official in the Brazilian government’s Indian affairs department, as saying.
    “This is very important because there are some who doubt their existence.”
    ( )
    He makes clear from the start that they had known about uncontacted tribes in that area. In fact, the photos were taken in a designated reserve for isolated tribes, so the idea that they were unknown is quite mistaken.
    The Peruvian President and oil companies working in the region have denied their existence, but others, including Survival International have covered the issue for a very long while. This is what motivated the release of the photos.
    The claim had never been that they were ‘lost’, just that they were isolated to the point of being essentially uncontacted and therefore vulnerable. Uncontacted needn’t mean that they haven’t ever been contacted, or that they don’t have occasional contact with neighbouring tribes.
    Some journalists have misreported the story and created an issue of dishonesty where there need not be one.

  5. Hi Matt.
    That was the story as I got it from the Observer article, linked above, which perhaps you have not read. As you will see, “Secret of the ‘lost’ tribe that wasn’t” was the headline. The article resolved the doubts I had when I originally heard about this story on radio: the version of the story that said that this was a new discovery of an unknown tribe. If Mr Mereilles’s deliberate highlighting of the dangers to a known tribe was wrongly characterised as a discovery of a lost tribe, either Mr Meirelles himself is responsible, or the media, who initially chose to take the story up that way.
    I hope I can write for all of us at by saying we are concerned about the ethics of excessive logging and the danger to indigenous peoples! But I am actually writing about a separate issue. What we often highlight on this website are distortions we see in the media, including unlikely claims, hoaxes and things like that. Certainly this story has been misrepresented somewhere along the line as something it isn’t. In reality I hope you agree it’s a story about protection, about the environment, and not a science fiction story about a mysterious, unknown lost tribe.

  6. Hi Barry,
    I think you’re right about media distortion. It appears that the Guardian journalist has misinterpreted the word ‘uncontacted’ to mean ‘undiscovered’ and created an inflammatory story where there is none.
    As I mentioned earlier, the BBC article from the time the photos were released quotes the man behind the photo expedition as saying that they went out expressly to find them as they knew theat isolated tribes lived there. They must have done, given that it was a reserve dedicated to the protection of those tribes.
    So the initial story was not a hoax, but this latest analysis seems to be groundless polemic.
    Do you agree or do you think there is really something to this new story?

  7. Well, in light of what you’re saying, it’s interesting to see how Peter Beaumont, the Observer journalist, frames the quotations from Mr Mereilles. Certainly the BBC article is more in line with what you’re saying, i.e. that there was no deception by Mr Mereilles from the outset.
    It may indeed be the case that the ‘hoax’ angle to this story, rather than the story itself, is a hoax! A made-up controversy where there is none…
    Could this have happened innocently? Perhaps there is widespread ignorance about what an ‘uncontacted’ tribe is, and certain parts of the media just automatically assumed it meant an ‘undiscovered’ tribe.
    (So when I heard claims of an ‘undiscovered tribe’, the first thing I thought was ‘That’s got to be a hoax’ because there have been anthropological hoaxes in the past. Hence the story ended up here on
    Matt, am I right in deducing that you work for Survival International? If so, have you considered contacting Mr Beaumont of the Observer about this?

  8. Hi again Barry,
    I do indeed work for Survival and we have been working to clarify the matter since, as you say, it has been a somewhat damaging distortion.
    It is hard to say what rationale was behind this new, ‘apparently revelatory article’.
    However, we have sent a letter to The Observer and have covered the matter on our own blog at:
    Thanks again,

Comments are closed.