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Uncontacted people

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Uncontacted people

Uncontacted peoples, also referred to as isolated peoples or lost tribes, are communities who live, or have lived, either by choice (people living in voluntary isolation) or by circumstance, without significant contact with globalized civilization. Few people have remained totally uncontacted by global civilization. Indigenous rights activists call for such groups to be left alone, stating that it will interfere with their right to self-determination. Most uncontacted communities are located in densely forested areas in South America, New Guinea and India. Knowledge of the existence of these groups comes mostly from infrequent and sometimes violent encounters with neighboring tribes, and from aerial footage. Isolated tribes may lack immunity to common diseases, which can kill a large percentage of their people after contact.[1][2]



Uncontacted tribes are a source of fascination in developed society, and the idea of tour operators offering extreme adventure tours to specifically search out uncontacted people has become controversial. A BBC Four documentary in 2006 documented a controversial American tour operator who specializes in escorted tours to "discover" uncontacted people in West Papua,[3] similar to the BBC's own adventure in Papua New Guinea to make its 1971 documentary A Blank on the Map in which the first contact in over a decade was made with the Biami people.


Andaman Islands, India

Two tribes of the Andaman Islands, in India, have sought to avoid contact with the outside world.

Sentinelese people

Main article: Sentinelese people

The Sentinelese continue to actively and violently reject contact. They live on North Sentinel Island in Eastern India, a small and remote island which lies to the west of the southern part of South Andaman Island. They are thought to number around 250 (median estimate). Based on helicopter surveys of the island, the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami does not appear to have affected the Sentinelese adversely.

It is estimated that they have lived on their island for 60,000 years. Their language is markedly different even from other languages on the Andamans,[4] which suggests that they have remained uncontacted for thousands of years. They are thus considered the most isolated people in the world, and they are likely to remain so.[4]


Main article: Jarawa people (Andaman Islands)

Another Andamanese tribe, the Jarawa, live on the main islands. They rejected all contact, but following the completion of a trunk road traversing their territory in 1997, some have begun emerging from the forest into the open. They are thought to number 300 people.


The Ruc people, when first encountered by North Vietnamese soldiers during the Vietnam War, were hunting-gathering tribes, living in caves in eastern Quang Binh province. Since then, the government has made many attempts to relocate them.[5]



Main article: Pintupi Nine

In 1984, a group of Pintupi people who were living a traditional hunter-gatherer life were tracked down in the Gibson Desert in Western Australia. For the first time, they encountered people from European-Australian society. They are believed to have been the last uncontacted tribe in Australia.[6]

New Guinea

Large areas of New Guinea are unexplored by scientists and anthropologists due to extensive forestation and mountainous terrain. Indigenous tribes in Papua New Guinea are generally contacted in the sense that local authorities know they are there, but many remain pre-literate and out of reach of modern medicine and technology, and at the national or international level, the names of tribes and information about them may be extremely hard to obtain.

The Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Papua on the island of New Guinea are home to an estimated 44 uncontacted tribal groups.[7] Isolated tribes have been reported also in the eastern Indonesian islands.

North America

United States

Ishi, a Yahi, is believed to be the last Native American in Northern California to have lived most of his life completely outside American culture. In the year 1911, he emerged from the wild near Oroville, California, leaving his ancestral homeland in the foothills near Lassen Peak.[8]

South America


As of 2006, the presence of five uncontacted groups was confirmed in Bolivia; three more uncontacted groups are believed to exist. The groups whose presence has been confirmed are: the Ayoreo in Kaa-Iya National Park, the Mbya-Yuqui in the Yuqui Reservation and Rio Usurinta (most of the Yuqui are now contacted; only a few families remain uncontacted), the Yurakare in Santa Cruz and Beni, the Pacahuara in the Chacobo reservation, and a group of Araona in the Araona Reservation, and the Toromona in Madidi National Park. The presence of other groups, such as the Nahua in Madidi National Park has yet to be confirmed.

Name Pop (Est) Location Commentary
Sinabo/Kapuibo (Nahua) Under 200 Between the lower Beni and the lower Yata
  • Pano language. Related to the Chakobo.
  • Some sources question their existence.
Toromona Unknown Eastern bank of the Manurini River, Madidi National Park
Yanaigua 100–200 Between the Rio Grande and Upper San Miguel
  • Pano according to some; more likely Tupi–Guarani related to the Yuqui.
  • Mainly hunter-gatherers.
  • Live on the Guarayos forest reserve.
Yuqui 100 Between Upper Ichilo and Upper Yapacani
  • Tupi–Guarani language.
  • Small uncontacted group of Yuqui. Mainly hunter-gatherers.
  • Live in Amboró National Park.


On January 18, 2007, FUNAI reported that it had confirmed the presence of 67 uncontacted tribes in Brazil, up from 40 in 2005.[9] With this reported increase, Brazil has surpassed the island of New Guinea (divided between Indonesia and Papua New Guinea) as the region having the highest number of uncontacted tribes.

Brazil has the most uncontacted groups in the world. The seven Terras Indígenas (TI) (Reservations) exclusively reserved for isolated people are:

  • TI Alto Tarauacá in Acre – Various tribes. (Isolados do Alto Tarauacá)
  • TI Hi-Merimã in Amazonas – Himerimã. (Isolados do médio Purus)
  • TI Massaco in Rondônia – Sirionó (Isolados do rio São Simão)
  • TI Igarapé Omerê in Rondônia – Kanoe do Omerê & Akuntsu
  • TI Rio Muqui in Rondônia – Isolados das cabeceiras do rio Muqui (Given as Miqueleno-Kujubim in the table).
  • TI Rio Pardo in Mato Grosso and Amazonas – Isolados do Rio Pardo (Tupi–Guarani–Kawahibi).
  • TI Xinane isolados in Acre – Unidentified.

Uncontacted groups living in other peoples' TIs are:

  • TI Awá in Maranhão – Awá.
  • TI Nivarura in Amazonas. First Contacted by Xionity missionaries in 2010.
  • TI Avá-Canoeiro in Goiás – Avá-Canoeiro.
  • TI Arara do Rio Branco in Mato Grosso – Isolados da margem esquerda do médio Rio Roosevelt/Rio Branco.
  • PI Aripuanã in Rondônia – Isolados da margem esquerda do médio Rio Aripuanã, Isolados do Río Pacutinga/Aripuanã, Isolados do Médio Rio Branco do Aripuanã.
  • TI Bujiwa in Amazonas. (First contacted in 1943).
  • TI Caru in Maranhão – Awá (Isolados do igarapé Água Branca).
  • TI Inãwébohona (reservation overlapped to the Araguaia National Park), and a small part of TI Parque do Araguaia in Tocantins – Avá-Canoeiro (Isolados da Mata do Mamão).
  • TI Kampa e Isolados do Rio Envira in Acre – Isolados do rio Envira.
  • TI Kaxinawa do Rio Humaitá in Acre – Unidentified.
  • TI Koatinemo in Pará – Unidentified.
  • TI Menkragnoti in Pará – Mengra Mrari.
  • TI Raposa Serra do Sol in Roraima – Unidentified, Discovered in 2006. Near Monte Roraima and Monte Caburaí (2 to 4 km from Brazil-Venezuela-Guyana tri-junction).
  • TI Mamoadate in Acre – Mashko (Isolados do Alto Iaco).
  • TI Jaminaua-Envira – Isolados das cabeceiras do rio Jaminaua. (Part of Papavo)
  • TI Riozinho do Alto Envira in Acre – Isolados do Riozinho/Envira. (Part of Papavo)
  • TI Rio Teá in Amazonas – Four bands of Nadeb(?): Cabeceira dos rios Waranaçu e Gururu, Médio rio Tiquié, Cabeceiras dos rios Curicuriari e Dji and Cabeceiras do rio Teá. Two more bands nearby in Eneiuxi (Médio rio Eneiuxi) and Urubaxi (Cabeceira do rio Urubaxi e Bafuanã) are possibly Nedeb (Given as Nadeb in the table).
  • PI Tumucumaque in Pará – Akurio.
  • TI Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau in Rondônia – four to six groups of isolated people, Including Isolados das cabeceiras do rio Muqui, Isolados do rio Cautário, Cabeceiras do rio Água Branca and Jururei.
  • TI Vale do Javari in Amazonas – seven groups of isolated people: Cabeceiras de Santana e igarapé Flexeira, Korubo, Isolados do Coari-Río Branco, Isolados do rio Quixito, Isolados do Rio Jandiatuba, Isolados do Rio Jutaí e Isolados dos rios Jaquirana/Amburus.
  • TI Waimiri Atroari in Amazonas – Formadores do rio Alalaú (Piriutiti) and Formadores do rio Jatapu (Karafawyana or Chamakoto).
  • TI Xikrin do Cateté in Pará.
  • TI Araribóia in Mato Grosso – Isolados dos rios Buriticupu e Taruparu.
  • TI Cuminapanema – Zo’é.
  • TI Tanaru – Only one individual, the "Tanaru Isolated Indian." Remaining members of the tribe were massacred or wiped out by disease.[10][11]
Name Pop (Est) Location Commentary
Apiaká over 100 Mato Grosso – Between Lower Juruena and Lower Teles Pires
  • Tupi–Guarani.
  • Isolated Apiaká group.
  • Were massacred some time ago.
Apurinã over 50 Amazonas – Upper rio Sepatini Arawak.
Aruá 75 at most Rondônia
  • Tupi–Mondé
  • Between the rios Mequens and Colorado
  • Living over both the Rio Branco I.T. and the Guaporé B.R.
  • Rio São Miguel
  • Outside reserves.
  • Area invaded by loggers.
  • Frequent fighting.
Avá-Canoeiro around 30 Three locations in the states of Goiás, Tocantins and Minas Gerais.
  1. TI Avá-Canoeiro and the mountain ranges between the Rio Preto and the Rio Bagagem, located just northeast and east of the lake formed by the Serra da Mesa Hydroelectric Power Plant, in northern Goiás.
  2. Mata do Mamão in the Bananal Island, Tocantins.
  3. Mountain ranges located near to the Rio Urucuia and the Rio Carinhanha, in northwestern Minas Gerais.
  • Tupi–Guarani.
  • Small groups of highly mobile hunter-gatherers.
  • They are popularly known by the nickname Cara-Preta (in English: Black Face).
  • Hostile.
Guaja 120 [already counted among the known group] Maranhão – Scattered throughout the western part of the state
  • Tupi–Guarani.
  • Small groups of highly mobile hunter-gatherers (even after contact).
  • They have their own I.T. but also move in and out of several other reserves.
Ingarune around 100 North Pará – Rio Cuminapanema and Paru de Oeste
  • Karib.
  • Related to the Kachuyana.
  • Existence confirmed by the Poturuyar (recently contacted Tupi–Guarani). They live within the latter's I.T.
Kanibo (Mayo) 120–150 Rio Quixito, Javari Basin, Amazonas Probably Pano.
  • Several unsuccessful official contacts.
  • Occasional contacts with loggers.
Kaniwa (Korubo) 300 9 malocas in Between Lower Ituí and Lower Itacuaí, Amazonas Pano.
  • Occasional contacts.
  • Hostile.
Karafawyana and other isolated Carib tribes. 400–500 Four locations in Roraima and north Pará.
  1. Source of the Jatapu.
  2. Rio Urucurina, tributary of the Mapuera.
  3. Rio Kafuini, tributary of the Trombetas.
  4. Upper Turuna, tributary of the Trombetas.
Mostly Cariban.
  1. Karib, Parukoto-Charuma sub-group.
  2. Related to the Waiwai.
  3. Some individuals visit Waiwai communities without warning the authorities. This is how they obtain their metal tools.
  4. Partly in the Trombetas-Mapuera I.T.
Karitiana 50–100 Upper Rio Candeias, Rondônia. Tupi–Arikem. Identified by the small group that has been contacted.
Katawixi 50 Upper Rio Muquim, tributary of the Purus, Amazonas. Isolated language. One community only has been located.
Kayapó do Rio Liberdade over 100 Lower Rio Liberdade, northern Mato Grosso. Gé. Identified by other Kayapó towards whom they are hostile.
Kayapó-Pu'ro 100 Lower Rio Curuá, South Pará. Kayapó. Group which has broken away from the Mekragnoti since 1940. Outside Kayapó I.T.
Kayapó-Pituiaro 200 Rio Murure, South Pará. Kayapó. Group which has broken away from the Kuben-kranken since 1950. Partly outside Kayapó I.T.
Kayapó-Kararao around 50 Lower Rio Guajara, South Pará. Kayapó. Group which has broken away from the Kararao. Struggles are part of their traditions.
Kozicky unknown Rio Curuça, Amazonas. Kayapó. Small, hostile group. Occasionally known to contact with modern society.
Kulina unknown Rio Curuça, tributary of the Javari, Amazonas. Arawan. Small isolate communities belonging to the big Kulina group.
Maku (Nadeb) around 100 Uneiuxi and Urubaxi Basins, Amazonas. Isolated language. Isolated elements of Maku groups that have already been contacted. Hunter-gatherers.
Mamaindé 50–100 Upper Rio Corumbiara, Rondônia. Isolated language. Isolated group of Nambikwara. A no-entry zone was allocated and then cancelled under local pressure. Recently massacred.
Hi-Merimã 1,500 Riozinho, tributary of the Cuniuã, Purus Basin, Amazonas. Arawan(?). Their area has recently been declared protected.
Mayoruna 200–300 3 locations in Amazonas:
  1. Rio Batã, source of the Javari.
  2. Rio Pardo.
  3. Between the Pardo and middle Javari.
Pano. Small isolated communities of the large Mayoruna group.
Miqueleno (Cujubi) ? Upper Rio São Miguel, Rondônia Isolated Chapakura language. Area invaded by loggers. Recently massacred.
Nereyana around 100 Rio Panama, headwaters of Paru do Oeste, North Pará. Karib. Perhaps more closely related to the Kachuyana than to the Tiriyo.
Pacaás Novos
  • (2) Oromawin sugroup
around 150 Serra dos Pacaás Novos, Rondônia.
  • (2) Source of the Rio Formoso, Rondônia.
Isolated Chapakura language. Isolated groups belonging to the major Pacaás Novos group. Included in the Uru-eu-wau-wau I.T.
  • (2) Neighbouring one of the Pacaás Novos I.T.
Papavo Supergroup, which includes:
  1. Mashco/Harakmbet
  2. Culina
  3. Amahuaca
  4. Yawanahua
over 400 Acre (Scattered over a single large territory)
  • (1) Rio Breu, headwaters of the Upper Jurua.
  • (2,3,4) Between the sources of the Envira and the Muru, and Igarapé Xinané, tributary of the Purus, overflowing into Peru.
Many isolated communities belonging to four distinct groups. Struggling is part of their traditions: reciprocal hostile contacts with the Kampa (whom they plunder), and peaceful ones with the Kulina; they plunder the loggers' encampments.
  • (1) Isolated language – On the extractivist reserve of Alto Jurua.
  • (2,3,4)-(2) Arawan, (3,4) Panoan – Two I.T. have been set up for them.
Pariuaia over 100 Rio Bararati, tributary of the Lower Juruena, Amazonas. Probably Tupi–Kawahib, Tupi–Guarani. Have refused all contact since 1930.
Piriutiti 100–200 Rio Curiau, Amazonas. Related to the Waimiri-Atroari (Karib). Some live in, others outside, the latter's I.T.
Sateré unknown Rio Parauari, tributary of the Maués-açu, Amazonas. Tupi. Communities that split away from the Sateré-Maué a long time ago.
Tupi–Kawahib (Piripicura) 200–300 Between the Madeirinha and Roosevelt rivers, northern Mato Grosso. Tupi–Guarani. A no-entry zone has just been allocated for them.
Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau 300 Serra dos Pakaás-Novas, Rondônia. Tupi–Guarani. There remain over 3 uncontacted groups. Several hostile encounters with gold-seekers and loggers. All are included in the vast Uru-eu-wau-wau I.T.
Wayãpi (Yawãpi) 100–150 Upper Ipitinga, between the Jari and the Paru do Leste, northern Pará. Tupi–Guarani. Group which formerly broke away from the Southern Wayãpi.
Yakarawakta 20–30 Between the Rios Aripuanã and Juruena, Mato Grosso Norte. Tupi–Guarani. Probably an Apiaka sub-group.
Yanomami 300 Amazonas
  1. Upper Marauia
  2. Between the Demini and the Catrimani
  1. Within the I.T.
  2. Isolated communities; probably outside the I.T., but within the Rio Branco National Park.
name unknown around 100 Between the Upper Amapari and Upper Oiapoque, Amapa. Unspecified language family. According to the Southern Wayãpi, a group that formerly broke away from them. According to the Northern Wayãpi, one of their former enemy groups, the Tapüiy.
name unknown (Isolados do Jandiatuba) 300 Between the Upper Jandiatuba and the Itacuaí, Amazonas. Maybe a Katukina group.
name unknown (Isolados do São José) 300 Igarapé São José, tributary of the Itacuaí, Amazonas. Seems to be a group distinct from Isolados do Jandiatuba.
name unknown unknown Igarapé Recreio, Cruzeiro do Sul municipality, Upper Juruá, Acre. Panoan(?)
name unknown (Isolados do Igarapé Tueré) unknown Igarapé Tueré, tributary of the Itacaiúnas, Pará. Tupi(?)
name unknown (Isolados do Arama e Inaui) around 100 South of Rio Inauini, Purus Basin, Amazonas.
name unknown (Isolados do Igarapé Umari) unknown Igarapé Umari, tributary of the Ituxi, Amazonas.
name unknown (Isolados da Serra do Taquaral) unknown Serra do Taquaral, source of the Rio Branco, Rondônia.

Of the known uncontacted peoples of Brazil, according to the above, 16 live in the Brazilian state of Amazonas, 7 in Rondônia, 8 in Pará, 2 in Acre, 3 in Mato Grosso, and one each in Amapá, Maranhão, Roraima, Tocantins, Goiás and Minas Gerais. Keep in mind some migrate between state lines.


Due to ongoing paramilitary conflict, Colombia is a country that offers little protection for isolated groups. Carabayo-Aroje is the one such group, living in the Parque Nacional del Rio Pure. It is not known whether any Yari (another tribe believed to be uncontacted) survives now. Nukaak Maku were contacted in 2003 and 65% of the tribal members died of disease. Around two or three dozen Nukaak still remain isolated.

Name Pop (Est) Location Commentary
Carabayo 150 Amazonas – Source of the Purué River, north of the Putumayo River
  • Unattested language, perhaps Yuri.
  • Overstepping the Brazilian border.
  • Hostile.
  • Population estimated at 300-500 in 2012 (including two other uncontacted tribes in the Rio Puré National Park: Juruna and Passé)[12]
Guaviare Macusa (Now Nukaak) 300 Guainia – Between the Guaviare River and the Inírida River
  • The Nukak language is unclassified.
  • It might be one of the Nadahup languages
  • Small mobile groups of hunter-gatherers.
  • Recently contacted. Now about 50 remain uncontacted. Population fell from 800 to 300 in just one year.
name unknown (Isolados dos Rio Yari) unknown Caqueta – Upper Rio Yari
  • Karib or isolated language?
  • Karijona or Witoto sub-group.
  • Live in the Chiribiquete national park.


It is not known whether any Tagaeri survive now in Yasuni National Park. In the 1990s when a member of Tagaeri was contacted by a lone Huaorani hunter, he told him that Tagaeri numbers only a handful of members and are in danger of being wiped out by their hostile neighbours – the Taromenane. Since then there have been no more peaceful contacts. The Tagaeri hunter also mentioned another group, the Oñamenane who numbered five or six individuals, and one other tribe – the Huiñatare. In 2003 about 30 Taromenane were massacred by the Huaorani in retaliation for the killing of a Huaorani hunter. In the same year 14 Tagaeri were killed by loggers. In April 2006 a logger was speared to death by the Taromenane (in 2005 another one was also killed by the same tribe, whose body was later found embedded with 30 spears and his face unrecognizable). In the same month a further 30 Taromenane and 10 loggers were killed in conflicts according to leader Iki Ima Omene (of Huaorani). In Jan 2007 the president of Ecuador declared the Southern part of Yasuni a forbidden zone (7,580 square kilometers) in order to protect the uncontacted people. At the same time CONAIE reported that there are a total of 150–300 Taromenane (divided into two sub-tribes) and 20–30 Tagaeri surviving uncontacted there. The Oñamenane and Huiñatare are extinct.

Name Pop (Est) Location Commentary
Huaorani 100–200 Oriente – Between the Upper Napo and Upper Curaray
  • Isolated language.
  • Segment hostile to the Waorani. Threatened by the advancing front of oil prospecting.

French Guiana

Name Pop (Est) Location Commentary
Wayãpi 100 Between the Eureupoucine and the Upper Camopi
  • Tupi–Guarani.
  • Group that broke away from the Wayãpi of Upper Oyapock around 1900.
  • They refuse all contact.


Name Pop (Est) Location Commentary
Wapishana 100 Between the sources of the Essequibo River and the Tacutu River; Serra Acarai
  • Arawak.
  • Isolated segment of the Wapishana group.
  • They refuse all contact.
name unknown around 100 Between the Upper Courantyne and the New River
  • Karib.
  • Maybe related to the Tiriyo.


There remain perhaps as many as 300 Totobiegosode who have not been contacted; they belong to the Ayoreo ethnicity, which numbers around 2,000. In the 1990s the main group attempting to contact them was New Tribes Mission. In 1979 and 1986, the New Tribes Mission was accused of assisting in the forcible contact of nomadic Ayoreo Indians, whose unsuccessful attempts to remain in the forest led to several native deaths. Others died soon after being brought out of the forest. The incident forced some Ayoreo to flee to Bolivia. Currently the main threat to these peoples are ranchers, who illegally encroach on their lands. In 2004 a group of 17 Ayoreo-Totobiegosode previously uncontacted made contact with the outside world and decided to settle down (five men, seven women and five children, according to Survival). It was not known whether there were any more isolated Ayoreo left in the jungle. In the first week of September 2007, another uncontacted band of Ayoreo-Totobiegosode were spotted by loggers in the Western Chaco. Ayoreo are believed to be the last uncontacted Indians south of the Amazon basin.[13] In 2008, a Paraguayan ruling blocked a Brazilian company from clearing Totobiegosode to make room for cattle ranches,[14][15] although the forest is still being cleared illegally.[16]


There are now five reserves in the Peruvian Amazon meant to protect the lands and rights of isolated peoples. Most of the reserves are currently entered by illegal loggers and petroleum companies with legal concessions to work in those lands, although their activities jeopardize the lives of the isolated populations.

After Brazil (67 uncontacted groups confirmed) and New Guinea (Papua New Guinea and Iriyan Jaya), Peru has the largest number of uncontacted tribes in the world (15).[17] Some of the groups in Peru are in danger of extermination by loggers and oil development. As of 2006, the locations where uncontacted groups are confirmed to be living are as follows:

  1. Amarakaeri Communal Reserve: Groups are Yora and other unidentified Panoan tribes.
  2. Zona Reservada Biabo Cordillera Azul: Cacatibo.
  3. Parque Nacional del Manu: Mashco-Piro, uncontacted bands of Matsiguenga, tribes belonging to Yura family and unidentified tribes.
  4. Reserva Communal Asháninka, Reserva Communal Matsiguenga and Parque Nacional Otishi: uncontacted bands of Ashaninka.
  5. Parque Nacional Alto Purús and Reserva Communal Purús: Yaminahua, Chitonahua, Curajeño and Mashco-Piro-Iñapari.
  6. Reserva Territorial del Estado: Kungapakori, Nahua, Matsiguenga, Nanti, Krineri and other unidentified tribes.
  7. Reserva Territorial del Murunahua y Chitonahua: Murunahua, Chitonahua.
  8. Reserva Territorial del Isconahua: Isconahua.
  9. Reserva Territorial del Mashco-Piro: Various tribes belonging to Mashco-Piro such as Mascho-Piro-Iñapari.
  10. Reservas territoriales del Cacataibo: Cacataibo.
Name Pop (Est) Location Commentary
Morunahua 150 This group is probably related to the group that used to be called Papavo in Brazil.
Parquenahua 200 Pano. They live in the Manu national park.
Pisabo 200 Pano.


Name Pop (Est) Location Commentary
Akulio 50 Watershed between Suriname and Brazil. Between the sources of the Itani and the Jari
  • Karib.
  • Last uncontacted segment of Akulio.
  • They refuse all contact.
Ecology portal

See also


External links

  • Survival International
  • Indigenous Peoples Issues & Resources
  • Cultural Survival
  • "The Unconquered: In Search of the Amazon's Last Uncontacted Tribes," by Scott Wallace
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