What do the pictures tell us about the Amazonian tribe?
Although we do not know the name of the recently spotted tribe in Brazil, or what language they speak, it is possible to tease out some clues as to their way of life from the aerial photographs taken by the Brazilian government. Fiona Watson, from the campaign group Survival International, uses her experience gained during 20 years of visiting the region, to explain what the pictures may show.

MalocasCotton and basketWomanTwo menSettlement


Malocas, or communal houses, are typically thatched. They often have fires, used for cooking or heating during the night. Smaller structures are used for cooking and other tasks, while larger buildings can be used as sleeping areas, and are usually equipped with hammocks.

The thatched roof does not reach to the ground suggesting that this is an area for communal activities including cooking, socialising or preparing the paste that is used for dyes and body paint.

The white blob in the photograph could well be cotton, and the beige area next to it is probably a basket. The cotton would either be cultivated by the tribe, or gathered in the wild. It would be woven by the women, into the kind of short skirt worn by the black figure. Cotton would also be used to make hammocks.

The woven basket has a strap which would be either worn across the forehead or over the shoulder and would be used during the collection of cotton or other produce.


These men are trying to drive off the plane from which these photographs were taken. They are aiming their bows at the aircraft, which had returned to fly over the settlement for a second time, after making a first pass some hours earlier.

The men have large bows made from forest hardwood, which they use to hunt for animals including tapirs, monkeys, deer, wild pigs and other small mammals.

They have also painted themselves with the red dye, urucum, commonly used by tribes in the Amazon. It is made from the seeds of a fruit similar to the horse chestnut. The seeds are ground into a paste to form the dye.

The body paint is most likely a show of aggression, possibly in response to the plane's first flyover.


The black figure may be a woman, although it is impossible to be certain. That this person is not carrying a bow hints in this direction. The black body paint is called genipapo, and is made from fruit. Like the red dye it is likely to be an aggressive display.


The series of buildings have very little space cleared around them, and are set deep into the forest. This suggests that the tribe are keen to keep themselves hidden.

The larger building is most likely used for sleeping quarters, the smaller buildings would be used for food preparation, cooking and other practical tasks.

The surrounding area has signs of cultivation by the tribe, who are probably maintaining gardens of manioc, a type of tuber which would form a large part of their staple diet.

Source: Fiona Watson, campaigns director Survival International.


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