brazilian whacks

A few days ago, a helicopter crew flying over a protected area of the Brazilian rainforest near the border with Peru thought they saw a tribe of indigenous people. When they returned later, with their cameras, the women and children were gone, and the men were made-up and armed for war. In the picture here, you can see the men, painted orange, pointing their arrows up at the helicopter. Take a good look. It’s thought that these may be the last people on the entire earth untouched by the modern world.

When the story broke in the news a few days ago, I was going to post one of the photos here and make some kind of stupid comment. I hadn’t quite decided which stupid comment at the time. I was either going to say that a reporter from had found these folks on Water Street, or suggest that we recruit them from the Amazon to the site of the infamous Ypsilanti brownfield project. (I figured that they could teach us how to live off the land when the oil runs out and society breaks down… And, if that didn’t happen, I figured that we could sell a lot of “I Saw the Ypsilanti Savages” t-shirts.) But the more I looked through the photos, and thought about these people, and what they might be dealing with right now, the more it felt like it would be the wrong thing to do.

I don’t usually censor myself here, but something didn’t feel right about it. The rest of us, I figure, know what we’re in for. Being poked fun of on the internet comes with the territory. By being a part of this society, we accept some culpability. I know that might not make sense. Sorry. I just find this whole idea of these people being “found” incredibly depressing. I know the world we live in and I’m scared for them. I can’t help but think about the native American tribes here and how much they’d been “helped” in the wake of contact. I guess it was just a matter of time, though. With the aggressive deforestation of the Amazon, eventually everything is going to be flushed out and destroyed.

Anyway, I wasn’t going to write about them, but then I happened across this article in the MIT Technology Review:

Researchers have discovered a species of Brazilian beetle that has the unusual trait of reflecting iridescent green from almost any angle. By examining the structure of the beetle’s scales, scientists at the University of Utah found an ideal photonic-crystal structure for visible light–a type of material that optical scientists have been seeking for years.

Three-dimensional periodic structures called photonic crystals are potentially valuable materials for controlling photons; scientists could use photonic crystals operating at visible wavelengths to develop more-efficient solar cells, telecommunications, sensors, and even optical computer chips. A diamond-based structure, in particular, is thought to be the most effective three-dimensional photonic crystal for visible light, because it can reflect a wide band of colors and has high reflectivity. Less light escaping means researchers can better control and manipulate the photons…

That’s right — an insect discovered in the Brazilian rainforest may hold the secret to solar power.

It seemed odd to me that both of these things would pop up at the same time. I don’t know what it means, but I suspect it means something. Clearly, there’s a selfish motivation not to clear the rainforest. There are insects and plants that could hold the secrets to the diseases that plague us. And the forests, just by being there, inhaling and exhaling all day long like they do, work to mitigate global warming. But there’s also a more noble reason to stop whacking down the trees, and it’s in these photos. I know it’s hypocritical coming from someone in a more “developed” country, but what we’re doing in Brazil has to stop. I know it’s heresy, but maybe it’s time for us to stop eating hamburgers. I know it’s an incredible sacrifice, but every generation has its fight to fight. Maybe this is ours.

[Insert meaningful paragraph here.]

And, not to be overly macabre, but wouldn’t it be deliciously ironic if the insect that held the cure for cancer had been wiped out to make room for more McDonalds cattle?

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  1. Reclusion
    Posted June 5, 2008 at 11:24 pm | Permalink

    There is now a video of them:

  2. Posted June 6, 2008 at 7:38 am | Permalink

    It is very cool, though, that there is an organization in Brazil (I think a a gov. org but I’m not positive), that serves to protect tribes like these to make sure that they’re not contacted or pushed out of their land. There’s a big problem of illegal logging in Brazil that forces these types of tribes away from their land, to the extent that they become extinct.

    It’s believed that there’s about 20 or so of these “untouched tribes” in the world, although this is the first discovery in quite a while.

  3. Mr. Edwardo
    Posted June 6, 2008 at 11:45 am | Permalink

    I found the real video, if anyone’s interested:

    It begins with a scientist talking.

  4. Posted June 6, 2008 at 10:11 pm | Permalink

    Good thing the researchers discovered the beetles… those tribes were eating the last of them.

  5. bee
    Posted June 7, 2008 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    we don’t have to stop eating hamburgers, just stop eating them 3x a day. And maybe treat meat like the luxury item it’s supposed to be…

    and then we’d be doing 2 positive things for the environment- limiting our meat consumption to what we can acquire locally-ish and giving up the drive thru lifestyle.

    and giving up the drive thru would improve our health, as well as the health of our meat which would eventually end factory meat production and we’d revive localized meat production.

    and then we could turn all the failed fast food joints into parks. and there’d be rainbows and butterflies and beetles that cure the localized ailments we suffer… and then?!

    (I’m not being cynical, sarcastic, smarmy or any approximation of that)

    anyway, ode magazine in their last 2 issues touched quite a bit on that.

  6. Brackache
    Posted June 7, 2008 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

    Trade those fellas a couple stinger missiles for their photon beetles and problem solved.

  7. UBU
    Posted June 7, 2008 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    Thank god you didn’t poke fun of them on the internet — I hear they only have dial-up down there and to go through all that trouble to just get smart mouthed by Mark would probably wipe them out. Look what it’s done to Ann Arbor…

  8. Ol' E Cross
    Posted June 7, 2008 at 11:27 pm | Permalink

    So, from my assumed perspective of many of you dear readers, I had a rather bizarre upbringing. But, in retrospect, it was fairly interesting.

    The backstory is too long to go into in this format, but, as a mid teen, I was face-to-face with an alleged cannibal, of my own then teen age, from a recently discovered Papua New Guinea tribe. Previously, I, like I think many of us, had pictured these remote tribes like simple folk. Almost like children. (Me, Tarzan … you Jane.) But, as I interacted with my new cannibal peer, I found he was like me in every sense. My equal on intelligence and every other human level.

    Stay with me… I’m getting there.

    Imagine every other planet in the solar system had intelligent life and knew about all that was going on in the stars, except us, but they chose not to tell us because Earth was the last place “undisturbed.” Wouldn’t you be a little pissed that everyone else was in on something and they thought us too quaintly primitive to disturb? That they were watching us, without our knowledge, and deciding our fate without our input? How is that equality or respect? It’s demeaning, coddling, patronizing.

    I’m a little conflicted, because I do understand the desire to protect the way of life of the orange men. But, they are people not historic monuments. They aren’t artifacts or children. They are our equals. I feel like the most truly respectful thing we could do is say, “Hey. Here’s what’s going on in the rest of the world, want a Happy Meal?”

  9. Ol' E Cross
    Posted June 8, 2008 at 12:14 am | Permalink

    Oh. And on beef and all. I’m willing to give up corporate beef. Easy cheesy. But, I’ve got to say, Biggies now downtown is the shit. For cheesy beef, fried chicken, collards, macaroni, family love, slaw and variations of green and baked beans.

    I’m willing to sacrifice, but don’t think I can give up my Biggies. I don’t think any generation could or should.

  10. Dirtgrain
    Posted June 8, 2008 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

    “I feel like the most truly respectful thing we could do is say, ‘Hey. Here’s what’s going on in the rest of the world, want a Happy Meal?'”

    Note that diseases would be potentially inflicted on them–to which they have little defense.

    Hey, science fiction has covered this ground quite a bit (and I’m not just talking Planet of the Apes). A flip is to consider John, the savage (AKA just like 20th century man), who was brought into the “civilized” world in Brave New World. His mother became a soma addict, and he wound up killing himself. We’d have to consider that this might be the fate of these tribes, some of them anyway.

    Is ignorance bliss? Do you think that’s fresh air that you’re breathing? Nope, it’s Chemlawn. Would they prefer to go on without knowing much about us and our world? Here, I wonder if we would be destroying their religions and their cultures. Ol’ E Cross, would you be in favor of confronting other isolated groups? Perhaps we should subject the Amish, the Mennonites, those polygamist Mormons and others to Mark’s mysterious box from Hustler. But they seemingly would choose not to look. Perhaps these tribes of South America have chosen not to look, as well. They could try to find out what’s up with the helicopters and planes.

    How about the Prime Directive?

    “The Directive states that members of Starfleet are not to interfere in the internal affairs of another species, especially the natural development of pre-warp civilizations, either by direct intervention, or technological revelation. When studying a planet’s civilization, particularly during a planetary survey, the Prime Directive makes it clear that there is to be ‘No identification of self or mission. No interference with the social development of said planet. No references to space, other worlds, or advanced civilizations.’ Starfleet personnel are required to understand that allowing cultures to develop on their own is an important right and therefore must make any sacrifice to protect cultures from contamination, even at the cost of their own lives” (from

    We could adapt it to fit our circumstance: until they develop sufficient fast food technology (or maybe other benchmarks for technology development) on par with our own, maybe we should let them be.

    Just found this term, Wesphalian sovereignty, while double checking the Prime Directive (see I don’t remember seeing that term before. Check it out.

    Then again, Ol’ E Cross may be right, when I think about how the desire to maintain their isolation might be a selfish notion on our part. Are we just imposing our own fear of the modern world on these people? Is our own call to be primitive (like Chris McCandless (Into the Wild)) and get away from it all (with romantic whitewash and sans grub eating and what not) coloring our perception?

    “Imagine every other planet in the solar system had intelligent life and knew about all that was going on in the stars, except us, but they chose not to tell us because Earth was the last place “undisturbed.” Wouldn’t you be a little pissed that everyone else was in on something and they thought us too quaintly primitive to disturb? That they were watching us, without our knowledge, and deciding our fate without our input? How is that equality or respect? It’s demeaning, coddling, patronizing.”

    For you, Ol’ E Cross: They’re Made out of Meat, by Terry Bisson:

  11. Dirtgrain
    Posted June 8, 2008 at 7:14 pm | Permalink

    Last summer, I read “Original Wisdom: Stories of an Ancient Way of Knowing,” by Robert Wolff (an okay book, but I didn’t find it as meaningful as Thom Hartmann did:, who writes about primitive peoples with whom he had lived and worked. One thing he realized is that we are confronted with too many choices in our society. I can feel that. Shit, at work as a high school teacher, I make hundreds (thousands?) of decisions each day (from the mundane “Can I go to the bathroom?” to the more involved “What can I do to get these kids to read a damn book?”). Then again doing nothing is only fun when you have something to do.

    Dammit, we have hundreds of different cookie options when we go to the store. Yah, what a wonderful world when you can get exactly what you want–but you have to pay the price of donating a considerable amount of your life to the act of deciding.

    It reminds me of a suicide note, unattributed, that I read in the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations: “All this buttoning and unbuttoning.”

  12. Dirtgrain
    Posted June 8, 2008 at 9:31 pm | Permalink

    Duh. Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. Yep, they don’t want to be bothered.

  13. mark
    Posted June 8, 2008 at 9:38 pm | Permalink

    I just started a new thread on this, Dirtgrain. You’ll find it on the front page.

    Thanks for all the great comments, everyone.

  14. mark
    Posted June 9, 2008 at 11:20 pm | Permalink

    And someone should repair their roof.

  15. egpenet
    Posted June 9, 2008 at 11:54 pm | Permalink

    Yikes! That’s not a hut in Brazil … that’s the Ypsilanti Freighthouse! Those are angry farmers shooting at the chopper for closing the place!

    OEC was right! Them is us and us is them!

    Holy trousers, Markman!

  16. Posted June 24, 2008 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    Here’s an example of the bad side of the internet — didn’t you hear the whole thing was a hoax?

  17. Meta
    Posted June 24, 2008 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    Not a hoax exactly. They really were tribal members, and they really were pointing arrows. They weren’t actors. What’s not true is that they were unknown. According to recent reports, the tribe has been known since 1910.

  18. UBU
    Posted June 24, 2008 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

    Well, if this ain’t, I would like to know what a “hoax exactly” is. The whole news about the news was that this was a previously undiscovered tribe and all the pontification that resulted here and elsewhere originated at that point….does it take actors to make a hoax?

  19. Posted June 24, 2008 at 8:33 pm | Permalink

    … does it take actors to make a hoax?

    Who died and made you BOSS?

  20. Posted June 24, 2008 at 9:46 pm | Permalink

    I am not BOSS — I am UBU ROI! (but yes, people tell me I am pretty boss…)

  21. UBU
    Posted June 25, 2008 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    Oh, so according to that bastion of truthiness Fox News, it wasn’t a hoax — it was just a story that “got out of control.” But let’s face it — the whole hook of the tale was that this was an undiscovered tribe. This was not true. Hoax, hoax, hoax…

  22. Posted June 25, 2008 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

    Not, not, not…. you, smug, smug, smug, asshole, asshole, asshole

  23. UBU
    Posted June 25, 2008 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

    They can spin it all they want, it still adds up to a hoax, a misrepresentation of the facts in order to gain attention. Your tag should be assholier-than-thou.

  24. Posted June 25, 2008 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

    good one good one

    booboo you a funnyman!

    ha ha ha!!!!

  25. Robert
    Posted June 25, 2008 at 7:13 pm | Permalink

    Mark, let’s set up a boxing ring at the next Shadow Art Fair and have all the conflicts displayed on your site settled there.

    I’m going to knock that Ol’ E Cross out in the 3rd round! I just hate how clever and witty he is, that’s all.

  26. Ol' E Cross
    Posted June 25, 2008 at 10:30 pm | Permalink


    Three things:

    1. No cash prize this time? Someone feeling a little unsure of himself?

    2. Being a stubby man, I find the reach advantage inherent to boxing severely limits my ability to cause opponents pain. I recommend a more liberal combat scenario that allows me to explore a wider range of traditional techniques.

    3. Bring in own, cowboy!

  27. holier-than-thou
    Posted June 27, 2008 at 9:07 am | Permalink

    boxing ring at the next Shadow Art Fair

    Just so booboo can play can we have a bad novel/poetry readoff too?

    I want to work through some adolescent angst! Nyuk, nyuk nyuk.

  28. Ypsi Astro Anthro
    Posted August 6, 2010 at 11:21 pm | Permalink

    The quaint thing about this discussion (and many similar) is the assumption that any person on earth remains “untouched by the modern world.”

    I’m not sure how many readers have been able to leave the bright lights of the city and look up into the night sky, but there is no inch of soil that doesn’t display the modern world if you look up. And, even in the Amazon, if you look up you’ll see a stream of plane lights and satellites flickering across the sky. All previous research on equivalent cultures would strongly suggest this tribe spends a great deal of time looking up and places a great deal of stock into what they see.

    For an animistic culture, this is the psychological equivalent of a little green man popping out of the wine and biting you on the nosse every time you take the eucharist. I suggest that it would be rather anxiety producing.

    And I’m just talking about night time intrusions. Given the approximate location, it’s hard to imagine they haven’t taken note of any number of flights from Rio to Lima.

    They may be isolated, but there is no way they are not untouched. I can only assume their world is already rocked. It’s no wonder they greeted the chopper with spears.

  29. Ypsi Astro Anthro
    Posted August 6, 2010 at 11:23 pm | Permalink

    A double negative. Delete the last “not.”

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