Indigenous societies' 'first contact' typically brings collapse, but rebounds are possible

Apr 03, 2014

It was disastrous when Europeans first arrived in what would become Brazil—95 percent of its population, the majority of its tribes, and essentially all of its urban and agricultural infrastructure vanished. The experiences of Brazil's indigenous societies mirror those of other indigenous peoples following "first contact."

A new study of Brazil's indigenous societies led by Santa Fe Institute researcher Marcus Hamilton paints a grim picture of their experiences, but also offers a glimmer of hope to those seeking ways to preserve indigenous societies.

Even among the indigenous societies contacted in just the last 50 years, says Hamilton, "all of them went through a collapse, and for the majority of them it was disastrous," with disease and violence responsible in most cases, and with lasting detrimental effects. "That's going on today—right now."

Brazil is "a tragic natural experiment," Hamilton says: several hundred native tribes contacted by outsiders remain, according to Instituto Socioambiental, a non-governmental organization that reports census data on 238 of those societies going back a half-century or more. That volume of data makes possible a detailed analysis of the health and prospects of the surviving contacted—and uncontacted—societies, an analysis that wouldn't be possible any where else in the world.

Using a method called viability analysis, the researchers found that contact by outsiders is typically catastrophic, yet survivable. While first contacts in Brazil led to of 43 percent on average, that decline bottomed out an average of eight or nine years after contact, following which grew as much as four percent a year—about as much as possible. Projecting those results into the future suggests that contacted and as-yet uncontacted populations could recover from a low of just 100 individuals.

Hamilton and co-authors Robert Walker and Dylan Kesler of the University of Missouri describe their analysis in a paper published this week in Scientific Reports.

While their analysis paints a hopeful picture, Hamilton notes that deforestation, the breakdown of interactions between tribes, and assimilation with the outside world pose ongoing threats to .

"Demographically they're healthy," Hamilton says, but as for their long-term survival, "it's very up in the air."

Explore further: Brazil moves to evict invaders from Amazon's Awa lands

More information: Paper: www.nature.com/srep/2014/14040… /full/srep04541.html

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Photos released to protect endangered Amazonians

Jan 31, 2011

Brazil has allowed the release of rare photographs of Amazonian natives to bring attention to the plight of indigenous people who rights groups say are faced with possible extinction.

Brazil govt backs natives on land demarcation

Oct 05, 2013

Brazilian authorities on Friday sided with protesting natives and slammed as unconstitutional an amendment that would give lawmakers authority to approve and demarcate indigenous lands.

Recommended for you

Local education politics 'far from dead'

12 hours ago

Teach for America, known for recruiting teachers, is also setting its sights on capturing school board seats across the nation. Surprisingly, however, political candidates from the program aren't just pushing ...

First grade reading suffers in segregated schools

12 hours ago

A groundbreaking study from the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute (FPG) has found that African-American students in first grade experience smaller gains in reading when they attend segregated schools—but the ...

Why aren't consumers buying remanufactured products?

14 hours ago

Firms looking to increase market share of remanufactured consumer products will have to overcome a big barrier to do so, according to a recent study from the Penn State Smeal College of Business. Findings from faculty members ...

Expecting to teach enhances learning, recall

14 hours ago

People learn better and recall more when given the impression that they will soon have to teach newly acquired material to someone else, suggests new research from Washington University in St. Louis.

Understanding the economics of human trafficking

Jul 28, 2014

Although Europe is one of the strictest regions in the world when it comes to guaranteeing the respect of human rights, the number of people trafficked to or within the EU still amounts to several hundred ...

User comments : 0