"The Hidden Tribes of the Amazon"



concerning National Geographic Magazine edition August 2003

As a teenager I was awed

by National Geographic


I believed their stories were absolute truth. But we all grow up sometime.

Your article on the hidden tribes of the Amazon contains factual errors and photos that project a false image of indigenous people.

I have taken part in the  first contact with the so-called "Korubo" Indians and have had the chance to return to the same people on several occasion during the following years.

I do not believe the expedition Scott Wallace narrates in National Geographic was organized for the purpose of discovering where the Flecheiros live.


We already know where they are. Three years have gone since I published images of their villages. Their exact locations, like so many other settlements of hidden tribes were determined by flights over the Javari forest and Scott Wallace has confused the number of tribes with the number of spotted villages.

In March 2000 I was able to accompany flights over the jungle with the FUNAI team who marked the locations of 19 settlements belonging to hidden tribes. The 19 settlements were later reduced to 17, which does not mean there are 17 uncontacted tribes in the Javari Indian lands. We are talking of maybe three or four tribes but it is impossible to verify this because they are still un-contacted.

My arial photos of the "Flecheiros" homes have since then been open to the Internet public on www.korubo.com

 Is it a coincidence that the title of National Geographic’s front page is exactly the same as the title of my documentary film covering the same topic and aired to milions of people in February this year, half a year before your publication? 

If not I am happy to see that my work has inspired your editors. I do know that in December last year your photographer requested and received a prerelease VHS version of my film THE HIDDEN TRIBES OF THE AMAZON.


Sydney's expedition with NG and Mr Reynard took place last year, whereas I went with Sydney to the Tsohon-Djapa and the land of the Flecheiros, on a similar trail a year before. We then followed the Jutai and Curuena rivers and cut our way overland to the waters of the Jandiatuba river very close to where Scott Wallace went.

In your article narrating last year's expedition I am given the impression the team never knew where the hidden tribes are located. But  I am sure Scott Wallace is aware that Sydney works with a GPS where all geographical data is stored. With the help of satellite navigation, a compass and simple calculations Sydney knows when he is 5000, 500 or 50 meters away from the malocas of the hidden tribes. The year before Scott Wallace's expedition with Sydney Possuelo we actually turned back exactly half a mile from the "Flecheiro" people's village.


In 2001 I sent rough edits of video recordings from the expedition to the television channel National Geographic Television and NG International. They later aired a film produced on commission by HOGGARD FILM which closely followed the outline of a film synopsis I had presented to NG. The team went with Sydney to the Korubo. They missed all the action and had to spice the end product with ample archive video sequences including sequences I had shot on the first contact with "Korubo" solely for Sydney Possuelo's personal use on his amateur video camera.

Before the broadcast I mailed messages to National Geographic International and Hoggard film forbidding any public use of my sequences. In the film DEATH IN THE AMAZON National Geographic, unable to record the events themselves, simply stole my pictures and aired them without answering my e-mail forbidding their use, and without any credit or offer of financial compensation.

In spite of this evident breach of artistic and intellectual rights I still have the only existing professional video or film records of a first contact in the Javari forest area, and the full story is told in my film THE HIDDEN TRIBES OF THE AMAZON.

Pictures and information about our expedition to the Flecheiros, named ”Ajuricaba expedition” have also been published over two years on my Internet site www.hiddentribes.com


It is one of the world's most extensive sites for information, video and photos on Sydney Possuelo's expeditions to the hidden tribes, the Flecheiros and the Korubo, with choice segments of my six years of journalistic research on the Javari Indian lands. It has been closely studied in advance by your media team.


For some unknown reason it is not included in your site references although you refer to Diana Jean Schemo's article in New York Times. She was there less than a week in 1999. I accompanied her and gave her ample complementary information to build her story.


I am also the original source of most information contained in an article on the Korubo written by anthropologist Philippe Erikson and published in the latest edition of the respected Brazilian Socio-environmental Institute's Brazilian indigenous reference work called POVOS INDIGENAS and have just terminated on the request of Reader's Digest a series of factual corrections of a forthcoming article to be published on the Korubo.


Tepe and Iban,  who are mentioned in your article told me the Matis used to kill the Korubo men and take their women. One of Iban’s wives is a ”Korubo” woman abducted in such a deadly raid. "Korubo" is what the Matis Indians call them, and it means "dirty feet" but that is not what this splinter group of a people call themselves.

I learnt of the so-called ”Korubo’s” real tribal name during our expeditions with Sydney in 1999 and reveal it in my recently terminated book FIRST CONTACT WITH THE HIDDEN TRIBES.

The book is a firsthand account of many expeditions with Sydney Possuelo since 1990 when I first went with him to the jungle to meet the Awá people and includes a lot of hitherto unpublished information about the first contact with the so-called ”Korubo” Indian. When released it will be the first and full account by a professional journalist of the entire process of preparation, setup and execution of a first contact expedition in the Javari and puncture several false informations which have freely circulated in wolrd media because in the jungle there are so few witnesses who can dispute the information.


I remember your senior editor Valerie May very well from the week she spent on the FUNAI ship on Itui river in 1996 setting up National Geographic Online communication equipment during our four month long  First Contact expedition. 


National Geographic's ambition was then to provide daily reports and photos direct from our jungle trail.


Wasn’t it a pity the editors actually waited for months before the Internet site on the contact expedition was uploaded? 


In spite of all your excellent equipment, nothing was published by National Geo Online until our expedition had ended and the contact with the "Korubo" was established. 


Scott Wallace’s article comes seven years after our first contact with the "Korubo" and two years after our overland expedition into the territory of the ”Flecheiros”. There Kanamari Indians on Jutai river told us of the ”indios bravos” they had seen. On that expedition we were the first outsiders to meet the Tsohon-Djapa and cutting a trail deeper inside the forest we found the near invisible signs of the hidden tribes. The story of our expedition and the Tsohon-Djapa is found both in my book and documentary film.


I imagine Valerie May's recent text in the August edition of your magazine is based on a long-distance phone call  to Sydney and not a real journalistic work on the field. In 1996 she could not understand Portuguese but communicated with Sydney in a broken Spanish. Whatever the reason, her text is not factually correct.


After I returned to the Korubo in 1999 and recorded the documentary film KORUBO - FIRST CONTACT, Kim Hill, an American professor of anthropology speculated widely about how the so-called "Korubo" could all be dead as a result our contact with them. His theory was a deskside projection based on what he could read over Internet or view on television. Fortunately he was entirely wrong.


But Valerie May is equally misinformed when she claims that only children have died after the first contact. The "Korubo" group of Indians have suffered tragic deaths of adults who have died in diseases most likely transmitted by the external world.


 I have the names and pictures of the deceased adult "Korubo" and they will be revealed in my forthcoming book, telling the full story of what I have experienced with Sydney Possuelo during the last thirteen years.


The attacks and killings described by Valerie May are no mystery. There are definite reasons behind Takpan's killing of Sobral Raimundo Magalhaes in 1997 and the subsequent attacks on lumbermen in the Javari forest. I went with Sydney to meet the Korubo only four days after the lumbermen were slain. But your team, years later, did not establish the contacts necessary to find the information.


Judging by Scott Wallace's narration of the expedition I find his experience, with a few exceptions, almost identical to our expedition a year before through the lands of southeastern Javari.


In 2001 Sydney had also planned to make dug-out canoes for the descent along the river after the jungle trail. It provides a more romantic jungle setting than outboard engines but on that occasion the idea was abandoned by Sydney because we risked getting silently too close to  the hidden tribes on the riverbanks. The half dozen speedboats with outboard engines that serve Sydney's operation in Javari are also faster and more practical for travel along the Jandiatuba river.


I cannot see why this argument is no longer valid and I wonder if the dug-out canoes were made not so much for the practical purpose of the expedition but to provide an exotic setting for National Geographic's photo. If that is the case the expedition and the men's actions were adapted to fit a virtual projection in your magazine.


I am also surprised at the double-page opening photo of naked Kanamari Indians who accompany the expedition. The men are evidently embarrassed to stand naked in front of the camera and try to cover their genitals.I am not convinced that is how they want to appear to the world as an indigenous people.

On no occasion during our expedition a year earlier did the very same Kanamari perform any ritual in a naked state although they sang many traditional songs. The Kanamari are generally dressed in shorts and T-shirts except when on expedition with the FUNAI team where they use camouflage military style clothes distributed by Sydney.

In 1999, on the edge of the Itui river I once witnessed how an Italian film producer tried to physically pull the clothes off Xixun, the leader of the "Korubo" group in order to ensure a naked picture.

I hope the big sprawling image of naked Kanamari was not arranged and the men were not requested against their wish to pose for this image.

If that is the case National Geographic conveys a pre-arranged but false image of today's native people.



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