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Indigenous Tribes from Around the World

Updated June 5, 2019 211.4k views18 items

Indigenous peoples of the world still live in some of the most isolated areas anywhere on earth, resisting contact with the outside world and staying free of societal influences. Uncontacted people live in a precarious balance, striving to maintain their own freedom while being threatened by an outside world they choose to avoid. Logging, ranching, oil exploration, gold mining, and tourism are all threats to indigenous tribes - meaning fewer of these tribes are able to survive.

When the outside world has made contact with these tribes, the results are often disastrous. Violent conflict with illegal loggers and gold prospectors has led to dozens of deaths, and since the tribespeople have no natural immunity, when they do make contact with settled societies, they are extremely vulnerable to common illnesses. There have also been incidents of tourists and photographers attack or shot with arrows by tribes who don't understand why they're being bothered. These tribes live in an increasingly dangerous position.

Here is a list of some of the most fascinating uncontacted peoples and interesting indigenous tribes still out there, and what we know about them at this point.
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  • Surma

    Photo: Rod Waddington / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0

    The three tribes that make up the Surma live in an ultra-remote part of southwestern Ethiopia and South Sudan. The word "Surma" is used as a catch-all for all three tribes, the Suri, Mursi, and Me'en. The tribes have a complex agricultural and pastoral culture, as well as a number of unique cultural concepts. Among the most prominent are the insertion of large discs into the bottom lips of women, skin scarring,  and stick fighting.

    They were known to Westerners for decades, but first made contract with a group of Russian doctors in the '80s. Since then, they've been able to get firearms because of the Sudanese Civil War, and have often been pulled into the conflict.
  • Ruc

    The hunter-gatherer Ruc tribe was first discovered by North Vietnamese soldiers during the Vietnam War, after a large bombing raid brought them out of the jungle. They still live in caves in the eastern Quang Binh province, using a complex system of tunnels that spans some 60,000 meters throughout 17 separate areas. Many chambers in the system are unexplored even today, with locations only known by tribe elders.

    Since their discovery, the Vietnamese government has made many attempts to relocate them, and the two groups have a mutual animosity.
  • The Pintupi Nine

    In 1984 in Western Australia, an unknown group of Aborigines, two co-wives and seven children, emerged to find lost relatives after one of the husbands had died from eating spoiled canned goods. They made contact, but fled almost instantly.

    The Pintupi Nine, as they were later called, were tracked down by speakers of their own language and told that there existed a place where water flowed from pipes, and where there was a general surplus of food. While most of the group decided to stay in the modern town, one member, Yari Yari, returned to the Gibson Desert, where he remains today. Several of the others have become prominent artists.
  • New Guinea Tribes

    Because of its remote location, thick forests, and mountains, much of the island of New Guinea is still unexplored. While the existence of numerous tribes is known about, and most have at least had some contact with outsiders, they remain on the island and out of the reach of modern technology.

    It's thought that there are around 40 tribes in West Papua, New Guinea, and many are hostile to outsiders - likely killing and eating Rockefeller heir Michael Rockefeller in 1961. A BBC film crew attempted to make contact with at least one tribe in 2007, but the encounter might have been staged.