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  • Some of the missing relatives traveled with the anthropologists and were able to find a group of 34 Korubo members.

    Some of the missing relatives traveled with the anthropologists and were able to find a group of 34 Korubo members. | Photo: EFE

Published 6 April 2019

A peacekeeping team of the foundation's anthropologists searched for the Korubo tribe, which remained uncontacted, in order to reunite them with a group of their relatives who were believed to have been killed by a rival tribe.

Brazil's Fundação Nacional do Índio (FUNAI), the country's agency which advocates for Indigenous peoples, has assisted two Javari Valley tribes in settling a misunderstanding and preventing a war between the communities.

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A peacekeeping team of the foundation's anthropologists has been searching for the Korubo tribe, which remained uncontacted, in order to reunite them with a group of their relatives who were believed to have been killed by a rival tribe. The operation required the team to travel through the jungle of the Javari Valley, spanning over 85,444 square kilometers, for 32 days.

The Javari Valley, Brazil's second largest reservation, contains the world's last known concentration of uncontacted tribes, totaling about 16. This does not include the eight tribes native to the valley, who have limited contact with outsiders.

As poaching, illegal logging and fishing have worsened in the area, the native people find themselves constantly in battle with criminals. The fighting has led tribes to become fragmented throughout the valley, separating families. When the Korubo tribe realized they had missing relatives, they accused the nearby Matis tribe of foul play. The dispute brought on by the misunderstanding placed the Korubo and Matis people on the verge of open war.

The Matis is one of the eight tribes who has had contact with the Brazilian government, although they remain living in isolation. In an act of desperation, some Matis people sought help from FUNAI. The members of the tribe hoped to avoid any misguided retaliation from the Korubos. The foray into mediation would be the largest FUNAI expedition since 1996 after Brazilian law prevents any contact with the isolated communities unless it is the only method of preserving their lives.

The "high risk" operation consisted of reuniting the relatives who integrated with other tribes after fleeing violence in order to stay alive. Anthropologists worried that the Korubo would not recognize their relatives, so they came up with a plan where the Korubo would be "able to talk with their tribal relatives and decide to stay in the Coari region," said Bruno Pereira, a FUNAI expedition leader.  

Some of the missing relatives traveled with the anthropologists, and all were able to find a group of 34 Korubo members. Pereira recounts the emotional reunion, saying, “it was actually quite moving... There was a lot of emotion and tears.”

While the foundation believes the war has been avoided, the process to reunite the remaining tribe members scattered throughout the region has just begun.

This is the first Indigenous preservation operation that FUNAI has carried out since the election of right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro.

Bolsonaro is notorious for criticizing national and international bodies advocating for Indigenous communities, saying that their preservation is a waste of resources and that they should assimilate to the mainstream culture.

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