Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Avoiding the Arrow People

Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Avoiding the Arrow People

Article excerpt

In 2002, journalist Scott Wallace journeyed where few outsiders have ventured before. He canoed shallow rivers and trekked through dense jungles to the land of the Arrow People, a group of Indians in a remote corner of the Brazilian Amazon whose language and culture are completely unknown to the rest of the world.

Wallace, a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center in 2009, returned recently to present his book about the experience, The Unconquered: In Search of the Amazon's Last Uncontacted Tribes. The Arrow People are so named because intruders into their patch of impenetrable jungle are likely to be greeted by a barrage of poison-tipped arrows.

On assignment with National Geographic, Wallace accompanied a team of Brazilians led by Sydney Possuelo, head of Brazil's Department of Isolated Indians, on a unique mission: mapping the Arrow People's territory in order to prevent encroachment on their lands while at the same time avoiding contact with the group.

It was a novel approach for both Brazil and Possuelo. For years, Wallace explained, the Brazilian government had pursued a policy of integration, which meant that isolated Indian groups were overrun. Possuelo notched seven "first contacts" with isolated tribes during an illustrious career as a sertanista, a sort of Brazilian government frontiersman. …

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