How to court an isolated tribe

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Science  05 Jun 2015:
Vol. 348, Issue 6239, pp. 1084
DOI: 10.1126/science.348.6239.1084

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To coax isolated Amazonian tribes into contact in the early 20th century, Brazilian missionaries and government officials planted gardens and tied metal tools and pots to clotheslines. Then they let the tribes take the food and goods as needed. Eventually, the tribespeople made contact, and their way of life change irrevocably. The "attraction fronts" drew isolated people into missions for conversion and transformed them into a settled workforce capable of building telegraph lines and roads in the Amazon's harsh conditions. Many saw the policy as enlightened. But for indigenous groups, the attraction fronts were often the beginning of disease and dependence, as pathogens were passed along with the goods.

  • * Reporting for these stories was supported in part by a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.