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 agencys
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.
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.
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,
Brazils 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.
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