Magazine article Geographical

Natalie Hoare in Conversation with ... David Hill

Magazine article Geographical

Natalie Hoare in Conversation with ... David Hill

Article excerpt

David Hill ,28, a campaigner and researcher for Survival International, has recently visited the Peruvian Amazon to investigate areas inhabited by some of the 15 uncontacted tribes that are estimated to live there. The three-month trip took him to the remote upper reaches of the Las Piedras, Yurua and Caranja rivers, and into potentially dangerous areas in which illegal logging is currently taking place

What is your role at Survival International (SI)?

My official title is assistant campaigner and researcher. I have quite a lot of responsibility for the Peru and Colombia campaigns, so one crucial thing is to monitor what's going on in those countries with respect to the groups with which we're working. I'm also involved in the Botswana bushmen's campaign and I coordinate something called the 'stamp it out' campaign, which is aimed at challenging the use of terms such as primitive and Stone Age in the media to describe tribal peoples today. Those terms are dangerous because governments often justify removing tribal people on those grounds.

What exactly does it mean when a group is described as 'uncontacted'?

Today, the majority of Peru's indigenous peoples are believed to be the descendants of indigenous peoples who had contact with Europeans during the rubber boom of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when hundreds of thousands of Europeans entered [South America] and recruited indigenous people as labour, enslaving them and massacring them. These people fled to the most inaccessible parts of the rainforest and have largely remained uncontacted by foreigners since, but they have had some contact with other tribal or indigenous peoples in the rainforest.

What did your recent trip to Peru involve?

Ten years ago, SI organised a successful campaign in Peru to keep Mobil out of areas where uncontacted Indians lived. The brief for my field trip was to return to Peru and get the lowdown on the distribution of uncontacted peoples today. That involved speaking to people in Lima and in the rainforest towns of Pucallpa and Puerto Maldonado, indigenous organisations, anthropologists, environmentalists, journalists--anyone who's interested in the issue and knows something about it. I decided to go to those places where there had been contact with the isolated peoples in the past and made three river trips up the Las Piedras, Yurua and Carabja rivers, aiming for the last settled contacted indigenous or tribal communities on each river--beyond, there's nothing but protected areas and the isolated peoples.

What kind of material did you gather?

I filmed 14 interviews with people who've had encounters with uncontacted peoples; I had a 1:100,000 scale map so I was also able to get them to show me where it was that they'd had these encounters. …

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