The Pano-Arawak territory

An area along the border of Peru and Brazil may be home to more isolated tribes than anywhere else in the world. We cannot know how many people live here but we do know that they need our protection. And they need it now. 

Dozens of isolated indigenous groups hide in this vast rainforest territory, many of whom we know almost nothing about.

The Pano-Arawak area is a large territory in the Western Amazon mostly inhabited by isolated tribes. The indigenous peoples live without contact with the outside world by their own choice. In total, this territory expands 88 900 square kilometres, almost the size of Portugal. About 75 per cent of it lies in Peru. The rest extends into the state of Acre in Brazil. 

The periphery of the area is shared between these isolated indigenous peoples and indigenous peoples living in different degrees of contact with the Peruvian and Brazilian societies.

The world's largest isolated tribe

We know that there are 6 identified and 10 unidentified isolated tribes living throughout the entire area. It is believed that most, if not all, of these isolated tribes belong to the Pano and Arawak linguistic families. 

One of the isolated tribes living here may be the world's largest. They are called the Mashco-Piro, and their population is in the several hundreds, perhaps even more than a thousand. As nomads they seem to live exclusively of hunting and gathering, in groups of about 20-40 individuals.

Territorial Corridor for Isolated Panoan and Arawakan Tribes

  • 6-16 isolated tribes
  • 88 900 square kilometres
  • 5 main threats
  • 8 control posts established by RFN and partners

Threats in this area

  • Area with threats
  • Logging
  • Road project
  • Oil and gas exploitation
  • Missionaries
  • Expeditions and tourism
  • Narco-trafficking route
  • Mining

Legend

  • Native communities, indigenous lands
  • Control post for territorial protection
  • Control post needed

The research documenting the existence of this unique indigenous territory was carried out by an alliance of six indigenous organisations from Peru, with assistance from core indigenous and civil society organisations in the state of Acre in Brazil. It was financed by Rainforest Foundation Norway and published in 2015. 

The research laid the foundation for a demand put forth by a coalition of indigenous organisations for the official recognition and immediate protection of what they call "the territorial corridor for isolated and recently contacted Panoan and Arawakan indigenous peoples".

Need protection  

Oil and gas operations, logging and road projects are constant threats to the lives and rainforest of the Mashco-Piro and all the other isolated tribes that live here. Ecotourism and missionary activities are other threats to their lives and wellbeing. With support from Rainforest Foundation Norway, indigenous organisations have for more than a decade tirelessly worked to prove the existence of these isolated tribes, and they demand that the Peruvian authorities protect their land from invasion.

In 1964, isolated villages of the matses people was bombed with napalm by the Peruvian airforce due to the matses' resistence against contact with the outside world. After 5 more years of persecution and contact atempts, missionaries managed to establish contact with one matses group in 1969.

This is the first known photography of people from the isolated mashco-piro tribe, by the Las Piedras river.

"The Territorial Corridor for Isolated Panoan and Arawakan Isolated Indigenous Peoples" may represent the world's largest continuous stretch of land mainly inhabited by isolated tribes. With support from RFN, the proposal has been elaborated by a coalition of six indigenous organisations from Peru, headed by the Inter-Ethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Amazon (AIDESEP), in collaboration with core indigenous organisations from Acre-Brazil and the Brazilian NGO Comisao Pro-Indio (CPI-Acre).

Abandonned mashco-piro camp on a beach by the Las Piedras River

The authorities have been largely unwilling to protect the isolated tribes. But with our support, the indigenous organisations have established a civil society control system around the area, now consisting of eight locally driven posts guarding many of the main river entrances to the isolated tribe's territory on the Peruvian side. In recent years the Peruvian Government has approved all posts and are now co-managing them with the indigenous organisations and their local guards.

A lot has been achieved, with many victories to show to, but much remain before the Pano-Arawak territorial corridor is fully protected, and the isolated tribes can live free from persecution and loss of land, without contact with our world for as long as they desire.

A rare glimpse into life in the rainforest

The Nahua tribe in Peru used to live in isolation in the rainforest. But one day, they were attacked and life would never be the same again. In this film, we are given a rare glimpse into how they used to live in the rainforest.