In recent years there have been more than 70 evidences of the existence in Brazil of 'isolated Indians'. That is the denomination given to those Indians which the organ of the Federal Government in charge of Indian affairs, the Fundação Nacional do Índio (Funai) - National Foundation for the Indian - has not established contact. No one knows for sure who they are, where they are, how many they are and what languages they speak.
The little that is known about them is that the majority of those evidences have occurred within Indigenous Lands that have already been demarcated or have some degree of recognition by Federal organs.
The few reports written about these peoples show sometimes pictures of objects found in the area where they were sighted. Oral reports generally are made by other Indians or ‘whites’ from the region, who recount fortuitous encounters or simply reproduce information given by others about the existence of such groups.
It was through oral reports, for instance, that most of the information known about the Hi-Merimã, who live the region of the mid-Piranha River, between the Juruá and the Purus rivers, in the State of Amazonas, was obtained. In 1943, this Indian group, which became known for their conflicts with neighboring populations, was estimated as having more than 1,000 individuals. No one knows how many they are today: the Hi-Merimã rejected any contact with the encroaching society, and even with other Indians, with whom they maintain, even today, hostile relations.
Isolated or contacted?
The idea that there are Indians who were capable of keeping themselves in isolation since the arrival of the Portuguese, and thus that there are societies that were unaffected by all the changes that took place in Brazil since then, is misleading. Even the groups that are considered ‘isolated’ have often had longtime relationships with segments of national society, as the case of the Hi-Merimã, who have had some kind of contact with non-Indians for at least sixty years, illustrates.
Isolation represents, in many cases, an option made by the group. It may be based upon its relationship with other groups, on the history of the attraction fronts in the region where they live and also on the existence of geographic conditions that make isolation possible. The big news for the ‘isolated’ Indians, therefore, refers to regular contact with others, especially with Funai.