Can I go get eaten in Borneo?
March 28, 2007 9:51 AM   Subscribe

So let's say you're a white dude wandering around in the Amazon. Or whatever. Are there actually still indigenous people anywhere in the world that would chase you down and attempt to kill you with bows and arrows, without provocation besides territorial invasion, a la this terrible movie I'm watching?

Yeah, ok, not everyone has internet access, but I have a hard time believing that anyone on the planet is that far removed from the outside world.
posted by borkingchikapa to Human Relations (20 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
The answer to the question you are trying to ask is "yes, mostly untouched cultures still exist".

However, there are plenty of people that aren't "removed from the outside world" that will chase you down and attempt to kill you (though maybe not with bows and arrows) with no provocation other than territorial invasion. C.f. Minutemen vs Mexicans. So I don't think it's surprising that a small tribe deep in the Amazon might do the same.
posted by DU at 9:58 AM on March 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

It's possible, too, that such aggression wouldn't be a sign of being "removed from the outside world," but rather exactly the opposite. If the last five times some random white guy has shown up in your neighborhood, two weeks later people have rolled in and commenced clear-cutting, you might be hostile, too. Bad movies are fond of "primitive people behaving irrationally" stories, but indigenous people do have some real reasons to distrust outsiders.

That said, I have absolutely no idea how indigenous people in the Amazon would react to visitors.
posted by craichead at 10:03 AM on March 28, 2007

I think a stroll in Baghdad might not get you eaten exactly, but it would be pretty close.
posted by unSane at 10:05 AM on March 28, 2007

A heard a story about something like this on NPR a few years ago. A group of anthropologists were wiped out by a tribe they had previously had peaceful interactions with. There was no apparent reason for the attack. I want to say this was in New Guinea, but I don't remember for sure.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 10:06 AM on March 28, 2007

In the Amazon, indigenous tribes have been known to sabotage loggers who illegally trespass in order to log timber. I will try to find some more information about this but geez, the Amazon is so freaking huge - there are just entire country-sized portions of it that have no roads, no "villages", no airports, nothing. It would, except for some unimaginable force of will and feat of engineering, be impossible to build roads over and through all of the tributaries coursing through the rainforest. So, yes, if you are a white man on a canoe in some extremely remote part of the Amazon rain forest, and the indigenous people believe that you come not in peace but for the pillage of the resources of the area or to start your own coca field, then yes, you may be shot at with arrows.
posted by billysumday at 10:39 AM on March 28, 2007

Yes. I work with field linguists and it can be a work hazard. This is not to say that there are blood-thirsty tribes around every corner or that there will be a dramatic arrow filled chase scene, but there are places where outsiders are not welcome.
These places are becoming rarer and rarer.

From linguist legend over at the University of Pittsburgh there is a story about the Pirahã surrounding Dan Everett's house in the amazon and debating whether to kill him.
posted by Alison at 10:43 AM on March 28, 2007

On the other hand, they might worship you as a god. Just don't try to marry any native women.
posted by demiurge at 10:45 AM on March 28, 2007

The Sentinelese are also not too friendly, but probably for good reason after what has happened to the Jarawa people.
posted by Alison at 10:47 AM on March 28, 2007

There was some island culture shown on 60 minutes a few months ago where, if you got too close, they'd often shoot arrows to push you back. The people there had strange evolutionary advantages for dealing with the water, like being able to cool their skin, or hold their breath longer, I can't completely recall.
posted by kingjoeshmoe at 10:55 AM on March 28, 2007

Alison beat me to the Sentinelese. There's a great book about them and the Andaman Islands here, with a section on the Sentinelese here.

I stumbled across this book a while ago from a link on - read the except he has there, it's really cool.
posted by rachelv at 11:15 AM on March 28, 2007

Just don't try to marry any native women.

You obviously haven't seen Venezuelan women.

Now, more seriously. I think your question was more about whether there were people who were completely disconnected from the outside world, so yeah, in short, there are.

Here in Venezuela, in the southernmost states (Bolivar and Amazonas) there are indigenous tribes with people who still live fishing and hunting, in huts, away from everything. Not that many, but there are. They won't even speak Spanish, which is the official language of the country.

But I've found people like that in Guatemala, for instance. People who might have seen cars, might have used a phone once, or may know someone personally who once used a phone, but by all means, they are isolated from "the outside world." Still cooking with fires made with the branches they collect, living in adobe houses with palm roofs, people who, again, don't speak the official language of the country and almost certainly don't know how to read or write and have never seen a TV.
posted by micayetoca at 12:09 PM on March 28, 2007

There is/was a fascinating BBC series called Tribe you should look at. Am sure that in one of the episodes they went looking for a tribe rumoured to be living deep in the rainforest and basically made First Contact. It took them a series of days advancing and retreating under vocalised threats and volleys of pretty weak arrows before they were allowed to meet face to face. Compulsive viewing as a whole, especially the tribe who puffed a load of psychadelics up his nose and made him trip for days...
posted by brautigan at 1:08 PM on March 28, 2007

Ok further investigation I'm probably thinking about the Kombai episode. Not quite First Contact but pretty unusual. Check the videos for more.
posted by brautigan at 1:18 PM on March 28, 2007

On the other hand, they might worship you as a god. Just don't try to marry any native women.
posted by demiurge at 12:45 PM on March 28

What? If I'm their god, can't I marry ALL their women?
posted by Ynoxas at 1:41 PM on March 28, 2007

What? If I'm their god, can't I marry ALL their women?

You can try, but don't let them bite you.
posted by demiurge at 2:06 PM on March 28, 2007

Consider the story of Michael Rockefeller.
posted by gimonca at 5:49 PM on March 28, 2007

It almost sounds like you're watching End of the Spear, about Mission Aviation Fellowship workers killed in the 1950s. True story. (I knew the widow of one of those killed). That was the '50s, of course, and things have changed mightily for that particular tribe...for better or for worse, who knows, but at least they're not killing each other or outsiders anymore...
posted by lhauser at 10:31 PM on March 28, 2007

I do hope you know that Borneo is not located anywhere near the Amazon.
posted by desjardins at 7:45 AM on March 29, 2007

I found people in the Amazon region to be very curious, but not hostile at all, as long as you don't adopt an arrogant posture. The amount of people that are completely cut off from the outside world is a very, very small percentage of the population.

Even in areas that are quite remote--small tributaries off of the Rio Negro or Solimões, or near the delta of the river at the Ilhas de Marajó--people have satellite dishes that they pay for in installments for as many as 36 months, meaning that even those without much often still have TV. I once met an Avon distributor who used a dugout canoe to go door-to-door.
posted by umbú at 8:13 AM on March 29, 2007

So my first post confirms the OP's suspicion that there are few isolated groups. But they do exist still.

The British documentary The Decade of Destruction (a heavy film, despite the cheery title) includes a scene of first contact between FUNAI (The much-derided Brazilian government agency of Indian Affairs) and an Amazonian indigenous group filmed in the 1980s.
posted by umbú at 8:19 AM on March 29, 2007

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