It turns out that the ‘lost tribe’ widely reported to have been found in the Brazilian rain forest a few months ago had only been temporarily misplaced. In truth, the Brazilian Indian Protection Agency (Funai), had known about this nomadic group for years.
The Guardian states:
Survival International, the organisation that released the pictures along with Funai, conceded yesterday that Funai had known about this nomadic tribe for around two decades. It defended the disturbance of the tribe saying that, since the images had been released, it had forced neighbouring Peru to re-examine its logging policy in the border area where the tribe lives, as a result of the international media attention. Activist and former Funai president Sydney Possuelo agreed that – amid threats to their environment and doubt over the existence of such tribes – it was necessary to publish them.
Two things strike me. First, we expect hard-ball tactics and outrageous propaganda from anti-environmental groups, but not from our idealistic conservationists. Were it only a matter of making something up, ok, bad enough. But strafing a village in order to get the photos? Poor form indeed. The former Funai president Sydney Possuelo defends the lie by saying it has caused Peru to reassess its logging practices. Yes, perhaps. But in the process it has destroyed the credibility of Funai and weakened the claims of other conservationists by association.
Second, what is behind our fascination with “lost” objects anyway? Sumathi Ramaswamy writes about this in The Lost Land of Lemuria: Fabulous Geographies, Catastrophic Histories (California: University of California Press, 2004). Loss, in her analysis, is a constructed thing, something we “make missing” in the past to satisfy social or political concerns in the present. (I will post a full book review on Thursday). The theme of the lost civilization or tribe catches fire in the nineteenth century and keeps burning into the 20th. For examples, see Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne (1864) or the The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum (1900)). The eagerness to capture lost peoples and places comes just as white Americans begin to seriously fret about the closing of the American frontier, race suicide, and manly decline (see Manliness and Civilization: A Cultural History of Gender and Race in the United States, 1880-1917 by Gail Bederman for a good synopsis of this). In any event, the Funai hoax proves that cult of the lost tribe is still alive and well in the 21st century. What gives?