According to National Geographic
, the population of the Mashco-Piro is estimated to be in hundreds and they are among the 14 or 15 isolated tribes that wander the Peruvian Amazon. National Geographic
reports most of the tribe was slaughtered in 1894 by the private army of the rubber kingpin Fermin Fitzcarrrald. The survivors retreated into the deep forests of the Amazon for safety.
A group called Survival International
recently released photographic images of the Mashco-Piro clan believed to have been involved in a November attack on a Matsigenka Indian, Nicolas "Shaco" Flores (see YouTube above
). Flores was killed with a bamboo-tipped arrow in a garden he kept on an island in the middle of the Madre de Dios River close to the territory of the Mashco-Piro. Flores had been leaving food and gifts for the small group of Indians for the past 20 years. He was shot in the heart. Glenn Shephard, an anthropologist who knew Flores, said: "Shaco's death is a tragedy: he was kind, courageous and a knowledgeable man. He believed he was helping the Mashco-Piro. And yet in this tragic incident, the Mashco-Piro have once again expressed their adamant desire to be left alone."
The photos released by Survival International
have been hailed the most detailed, close-up images of the uncontacted Indians ever taken. They were taken by Diego Cortijo, a Spanish archaeologist and member of the Spanish Geographical Society. According to National Geographic
, while Cortijo was on an expedition along the Madere de Dios River in search of petroglyphs, he hired Flores to serve as guide. Later Flores invited Cortijo and his colleagues to his home close to the territory of the Mashco-Piro. According to Cortijo, while they were staying with Flores, the Mashco-Piro appeared on the riverbank opposite Flores's home one morning and called out to him by name. Cortijo said he took photographs of the tribesmen with a long lens and that he did not approach them.
Questions have been raised as to why the Mashco-Piro killed Flores who had served as go-between for them with the outside world for 20 years. He had supplied them with items such as machetes and cooking pots.
The anthropologist Glenn Shepard, who had a close-brush with the Mashco-Piro in the same region in 1999, also expressed his bewilderment. Flores was married to a Piro woman, and according to Daily Mail
, he was able to communicate with them because he spoke two related Piro dialects.
Coinciding with the killing of Flores is the observation that members of the tribe have been appearing with increased frequency along the waterways in recent times. Daily Mail
reports that the particular clan that has been sighted with increased frequency along the river is believed to number around 60 individuals with about 25 adults. Cortijo said: "It seemed like they wanted to draw a bit of attention, which is a bit strange because I know that on other occasions they had attacked people. It seemed they didn't want us to go near them, but I also know that the only thing that they wanted was machetes and cooking pots."
Some have said the tribe might be under pressure from increased illegal logging, and activities connected with increased oil and gas exploration. Shepard also suggested that the Mashco-Piro, in the context of the environmental pressure on them, might have become suspicious of Flores's motives for persistent contact with them.
Some locals in the region believe there might be in-fighting among the tribesmen, between factions who want more contact with the outside world and those who want to maintain isolation form the rest of the world. This implies that members of the tribe who have been appearing along the waterways represent the faction who want increased contact with the outside world while the "conservative" faction are those who killed Flores.
The Peruvian authorities recently released videotaped sightings of the Mashco-Piro along the Manu River by tourists (see video above
). The Peruvian authorities have stepped up efforts to protect the Mashco-Piro from contact with outsiders, and advised people to stay away because of fear that contact could spread viruses the tribes have little or no resistance to.