Just before Christmas, the UK Guardian published some striking images from Brazilian photographer Ricardo Stuckert of an uncontacted Amazonian tribe, taken from a helicopter.
There are just a handful of uncontacted tribes left on the Earth, and the number is shrinking every year. The definition of ‘uncontacted’ is wide; usually certain groups are known to exist locally, and may even trade with others, but do not emerge from their territory. Given the history of uncontacted people making contact with the developed world, especially in the 19th and 20th centuries, it’s not surprising; unresistant illness, assimilation, and murder are likely outcomes, at least historically.
The reason they are in here, of course, is that they are wielding bows. Not just as sport or relaxation, or recreational hunting – as a matter of life or death, as a fundamental tool that has to be understood, learned and respected. It’s easy to forget the origins of that most human of objects.
Across the Atlantic, you can read about the Sentinelese, an ‘uncontacted’ tribe of legendary hostility living on an island in the Indian Ocean, luckily now left in peace by the rest of the world. Probably the most isolated of pre-Neolithic tribes of all, no-one in the world outside the island can speak their language, but legends tell of the accuracy of their flatbow, only occasionally photographed, usually with the business end pointing at the photographer. In 2006 Sentinelese archers killed two fisherman who were fishing illegally near the island. An Indian Coast Guard helicopter that was sent to retrieve the bodies was driven off by Sentinelese warriors, who fired a volley of arrows.
You may love your bow, but It’s as well to remember that for a handful of people, quietly and proudly living on the same planet, the bow and arrow remain not just part of their identity, but part of their very existence.