Although access to remote tribes is usually denied to outsiders by the Brazilian government, a rare permit to enter Zoë territory was granted for filming a sequence of the large-format film AMAZON. Veteran frontiersman Sydney Possuelo, chief of the Indian agency’s Bureau of Isolated Tribes, accompanied the crew, and he appears on screen with the Zoë tribe, the most recently contacted indigenous tribe in the Amazon rain forest.
An isolated group of about 160 aborigines speaking a Tupi tongue, the Zoë may be the only intact tribe in the Americas largely unchanged by Western culture. They are the sole human inhabitants of an upland rain forest near the northern edge of the Amazon Basin. Jaguar hunters, first to sight the Zoë in the late 1960s, called them "Poturus." All Zoë adults wear a large poturu or labret of white poturu wood, an ornament worn in a perforation of the lip, to distinguish themselves from others.
Many of the tribes of the Amazon have become extinct - devastated by introduced diseases, forced out by loggers or gold miners, and sometimes even "civilized" into extinction so that ancient beliefs and traditions are lost. While "extinction" is mostly used referring to animals or plants, the extinction of unique people is just as final.
In 1987, to obtain such necessities as knives and medicines, the Zoë welcomed missionaries who built an airport nearby. Fatal respiratory diseases soon followed. In 1991 the missionaries were ousted by FUNAI, Brazil’s Indian agency.
The Zoë go utterly naked without regard to age and gender. They sleep in heavy handmade hammocks slung in thatched huts without walls. Fabulous archers, the men hunt, while the women process manioc (a fleshy rootstock yielding a nutritious starch), and all gather Brazil nuts. Only one tribesman, Kuru, speaks some Portuguese. Others are adept at sign language.
The tribe fears encroachment from east and west, and they think the northern forests may conceal a race of giants. But visitors from the south - gente de fala boa (nice people) who arrive in small aircraft - are met with joy. The Zoë are eager to learn newcomers’ names and ask about their kinfolk, habits, behavior and belongings. They beg for barulho (noise): guns, chain saws, power generators and airplane rides. But, in an attempt to preserve tribal culture, FUNAI denies them barulho, as well as store-bought food and clothing, metal cookware, factory-made hammocks and red yarn for arm and leg adornments. And FUNAI almost never allows the Zoë to journey by plane beyond the borders.
"One hope I have is that people will see AMAZON and have a better appreciation for the unique and beautiful peoples of the region," said director Kieth Merrill. "I hope people will come to see the logic in preserving the people of the rain forest - and not just in order to ‘civilize’ them. It is arrogant for any group to think they can meet a unique culture and shape them into their own concept of what they think they should be."

An Ogden Entertainment Presentation
A Kieth Merrill Film
Distributed by MacGillivray Freeman Films Distribution Company
Filmed in IMAX®