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All across the world throughout history there have been native tribes of people inhabiting lands without the “civilized world” having any idea. From the forests of North America and the jungles of Central America all the way to the tops of mountains in Peru there were huge civilizations lying in wait the first time a European stepped off their ship onto soil in the new land. While major powers were looking for gold and ivory in Africa there were thousands of undiscovered tribes going about their daily lives. On the other side of the world, hundreds of years before Europeans braved the Atlantic, Polynesians were colonizing hundreds of different islands in the Pacific ocean. It’s fascinating and wonderful that there has been an underground world in the tropics for as long as there have been people on the planet.

The first area of the planet I will focus on is North and South America. There have been massive civilizations spring up in the jungles of Central and South America over the last three thousand to four thousand years. The most prominent among these civilizations was the Aztecs. In 1325 A.D. the Aztecs, showing a mastery of horticulture unrivaled in the world, drained the swampy land and began construction of their capital city on man-made islands in the swamp ( (Author: Date)They named their city Tenochtitlan and ruled central America socially, culturally and militarily until the Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes overthrew the city in 1521. The Aztecs were masters of the jungle around them. Their warriors hunted jaguars as a rite of passage into the upper rankings of their military (Hassig, 1988). They were adept at hand to hand fighting and plagued the conquistadors with stealthy hit and run tactics in the jungles of Central America. The Aztecs were the most influential civilization in the Americas and left their mark on history. The second great civilization of Central America was the Maya civilization. Where the Aztecs occupied what is today central Mexico, the Mayan civilization occupied the Yucatan peninsula. They were prominent in the new world from 2000 BC to 250 AD. The Mayan people were known for two major accomplishments. First, they built huge pyramids that were used for worshipping their Gods. Artifacts from all over Central America were found in the largest of these monuments, Chichen Itza (Coggins, 1992). Secondly, they developed a very accurate calendar system. If they had employed a leap year system, it would be accurate to this day (Bricker, 1982). The most interesting thing about the Mayan calendar, as I’m sure you’ve heard, is that it ends ominously in 2012. It’s been popularized by the media that this will be the end of the world as we know it, but people have claimed that hundreds of times in the past and been wrong. The Maya were socially and scientifically superior to all other civilizations in the Americas. The last major civilization of the Americas was the Inca. The Inca inhabited an area from Columbia all the way down the West coast of South America to Argentina. They were mostly known for their exceptional road system that kept the massive population very connected. The Spanish, led by Francisco Pizarro, began a war against the Inca in 1532. With them, they brought diseases including malaria and smallpox. Unfortunately the Incan advanced road system meant that the diseases spread quickly throughout the empire, killing hundreds of thousands of people ( (Author: Date) The Incan civilization ruled over thousands of miles of tropical forests and mountainous region in South America for hundreds of years. Overall these three great civilizations ruled over most of the tropical forest at one point. They all had their strengths and weaknesses but they undoubtedly shaped the future of Central and South America forever.

Today, there are many countries that house tribes of people who live a life away from the rest of the civilized world. For example, indigenous people of Brazil make of .4% of Brazil’s population (about 700,000 people). ( (Author According to the BBC “the very existence of Indians in Brazil is threatened”. Brazil has confirmed the presence of 67 uncontacted tribes deep within the Amazon jungle. ( According to The Washington Post in 2007 185 members of the Panara tribe died within two years of discovery “after contracting such diseases as flu and chickenpox, leaving only 69 suriving members of the tribe.” Mexico is another area in the Americas that is home to a large indigenous population. There are remnants of the Maya and Aztec that still live in communities together. Deep in the Yucatan (and neighboring countries) there are people who can trace their heritage back to the original Mayan empire. Pure Maya account for about 40% of the population of Guatamala.( It’s a proven fact that there are undiscovered tribes throughout the Americas. It’s fascinating that there are both undiscovered tribes that exist, but also still remnants of some of the greatest empires the world has ever known.

The second region I will focus on is Africa. The most notable contact that Africa had with Europeans throughout its history is the exploitation suffered at the hands of the slave trade and ivory trade. In the 1400s Europeans under the Kingdom of Castile invaded and colonized the Canary Islands, a chain off the West coast of Africa. Using these islands as a base, Portugese traders began to move their activities down the coast of Africa, raiding tribal villages and stealing native Africans for the purpose of slavery in Europe (Thornton, 1998). It’s estimated that half of the slave trade took place during the 18th century, the first time that the British were heavily involved in trafficking. Exploitation of local African tribes even saw African tribes themselves get involved in the slave trade. Enslaving enemies became less a consequence of war, and more of a reason to go to war since captives and prisoners of war were commonly sold to European buyers ( Some African tribes refused to do business with slavers completely, such as King Jaja of Opobo. Ruling over a large part of Nigeria, King Jaja absorbed a number of trade houses to consolidate his power. This shows that there were honest hardworking indigenous people in Africa that gained power, not by exploitation, but by leading his people against the exploitation of Europe. The ivory trade is another major economic force in African history. Elephant ivory has been exported from Africa to Europe for over a thousand years. Elephants were wiped out in North Africa at about 1000 A.D., South Africa sometime in the 19th century, and West Africa by the end of the 20th century and may face total extinction by the year 2020 ?( The ivory trade had an undeniable impact on the ecosystems of Africa. The African elephant is a main cog in the hierarchy of animals in the savannahs and lowlands of Africa. The removal of this animal throughout the last 400 years has had a major impact that will last forever.

The most recognizable indigenous peoples of Africa are the pygmy people. Pygmy are an ethnic group who are generally short in stature and can be found across the world. There are three main groups of pygmy in Africa that still exist today, the Aka, Efe and Mbuti tribes. These tribes are located in central Africa, in the massive rain forests of the Congo. All three of these tribes are some of the last true hunter/gatherers left on our planet. These tribes gather all of the food that they can, and use it to barter and trade with each other when they run out of one type of food that is important to their diet. Studies have shown that the Aka have passed down first traditions that are key for survival and reproduction with those of social significance coming later as an afterthought (Hewlett & Sforza, 1986). Pygmy tribes have reduced in size and scope over the past hundred years but there is still good research being done to discover how these tribes operate. They are one of the most mysterious groups of people in the world and it would be a shame if industrialization continued to thin their numbers. Countries in Africa are starting to enact laws to protect the rainforests and the indigenous populations themselves from the outside world. Survival International is a worldwide group whose main goal is helping the pygmy tribes. Survival International “works with hundreds of tribal communities and organizations” to ensure “a world where tribal people are free to live on their lands, safe from violence oppression and exploitation” ( With the cooperation of local communities, federal governments, and national organizations tropical forests and their peoples can be saved.

The last area of the world I will focus on is Asia and Oceanic region of the Pacific Ocean. There are literally thousands of oppressed, culturally distinct minorities seeking self-determination and rights to territories with which they have long been associated.( This is really the theme of indigenous peoples of Asia: systematic oppression by the majority. Examples of this can be found throughout history. The Khmer Rouge of Cambodia was known for putting children in charge of torture, moving people from the cities to the countryside, and massacring the indigenous peoples of Cambodia (Etcheson, 1984). Mao Zedong was another rule who was known for murdering his own people. In fact, Mao Zedong was responsible for the deaths of 50-70 million people, more than Adolph Hitler and Joseph Stalin combined (Fenby, 2008). Undoubtedly a large percentage of those massacred by the communist party were indigenous peoples of China who didn’t agree with the policies in place. It’s clear that the natives of the land are a target of groups attempting control through oppression and extermination. Another group of indigenous people that left a unique mark on the world were those of Polynesia. Polynesia is generally considered the area of island in the Polynesian triangle. This is formed by drawing a line from Hawaii, to New Zealand, to Easter Island, to Hawaii. In this area there are thousands of islands which all have a tropical climate. The people of this area migrated here from Taiwan from the time of 3000 to 1000 BC(Howe, 2006). The main contribution of these indigenous people was how unique their boats were. They were able to cross thousands of miles of open ocean at least 3000 years before Europeans started out for the New World. Seafaring techniques of the people of Polynesian fascinated Magellan when he first encountered them in 1521. The design was much faster and much more maneuverable than the large wooden ships employed by modern European powers. This praise is a testament to the abilities and creativity of the Polynesian people and is just another example of the strides indigenous people were able to make without help from the “civilized world”.

Today in Asia there is one place that stands out when it comes to indigenous tribes. New Guinea is 2nd only to Brazil when it comes to undiscovered indigenous tribes. Large areas of the island are completely unexplored due to impassable rainforests and mountainous regions. The human presence on the island dates back at least 40,000 years with evidence of irrigation and advanced farming techniques going back at least 10,000 years ( The indigenous tribes of New Guinea are collectively referred to as Papuans. Some of these tribes are the Haro, Mek, Tairo and Urap. What is interesting about tribes in New Guinea is that, unlike the pgymys of central Africa, they have longstanding and traditional rival tribes. Although these tribes do not live in peace, they also don’t go on raids to wipe each other out. Studies show that warfare in New Guinea is highly ritualized and plays a function in the social structures of each tribe. Some have even suggested that there is an element of sport involved as one research found both sides ceased fighting and began throwing stones at a few passing birds (Heider, 1970). Isolated tribes such as these are not threatened often by the outside world but there is going to be a time where that will change. If we begin to work now to protect the tribes of New Guinea, we can prevent a lot of the hardships that tribes in the Americas and Africa have gone through.

Across the world you can see that indigenous people have lived separately and successfully away from the “modern world”. Whenever more traditional “civilized” people got involved in the lives of native tribes it only led to death, poverty and subjugation. There are some place, like Brazil and New Guinea where a huge uncontacted population still exists today. It should be the responsibility of everyone to ensure that their way of life goes uninterrupted. Not only should we work to keep so called undiscovered peoples safe from industrialization, we should work to improve the quality of life of other indigenous people, like the pygmy tribes of Africa or the remnants of the Aztec or Inca in Central America. The future of these tribes really rests in our hands, but with some work we can give their future back to them.
References Need to have complete source information
Bricker, Victoria R. (1982). "The Origin of the Maya Solar Calendar". Current Anthropology
Coggins, C. (1992). Artifacts from the Cenote of Sacrifice Chichen Itza, Yucatán: Textiles, Basketry, Stone, Shell, Ceramics, Wood, Copal, Rubber (Memoirs of the Peabody Museum). Harvard University Press
Etcheson, Craig, (1984). The Rise and Demise of Democratic Kampuchea, Westview Press,
Jonathan Fenby (2008). Modern China: The Fall and Rise of a Great Power, 1850 to the Present.
Hassig, Ross (1988). Aztec Warfare: Imperial Expansion and Political Control. Civilization of the American Indian series, no. 188.
Heider, Karl (1970). The Dugum Dani. Chicago: Aldine Publishing Company
Hewlett BS and Cavalli Sforza (1986). Cultural transmission among Aka pygmies. American Anthropologist, 88, 922-934.
Howe, K. R (2006), Vaka Moana: Voyages of the Ancestors - the discovery and settlement of the Pacific, Albany, Auckland
Thornton, John (1998). Africa and Africans in the Making of the Atlantic World, 1400–1800 (Second edition). New York: Cambridge University Press