Many are still nomadic

Woman farming in the Amazon Rainforest
Credit: CIFOR via Flickr

Remote Amazonian tribes structure their societies around agrarian practices. This means hunting, fishing, cooking, and childcare form the majority of jobs. Due to their deep respect for their environment, many groups are nomadic. They move frequently and settle in different areas of the forest, which provide new resources and give previously depleted ones a chance to replenish.

Some have TV and internet access

Credit: James Martins via Wikimedia Commons

While many depictions of remote tribes see them as ‘primitive’ compared to western societies, plenty of tribes have had contact with the developed world. The Tembe, a small group of Amazonian tribes, for example, has access to healthcare, western educational material, the internet, and television. While still primarily living as hunters and gatherers, they still find the time to watch soap operas. Many tribes across the Amazon are fans of contemporary pop culture.

They brew psychedelics

Brewing pot
Credit: Terpsichore via Wikimedia Commons

The combination of several plants with psychoactive ingredients creates a mind-altering brew, named ayahuasca, which inhabitants of the Acre State have used for centuries. It plays a key role in many rituals and rites of passage, with some tribes constructing special buildings specifically for the process, known as Kupixawa. It also acts as a cultural aid and export, with many festivals and trade agreements based around the decoction.

Children aren’t given names until they grow

Amazon tribe mother and child
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The Awá people tend to give their babies more symbolic names until they come of age, when the right name is said to present itself. A Survival International profile on the Awá tribe noted a baby who was particularly wriggly being given the title ‘earthworm’ as a placeholder. A noisier child might be dubbed after a bird or a louder pet.

Tribes keep lots of unusual pets

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On the subject of pets, tribes like the Awá are known to keep a host of different animals as pets. Vultures and pigs are popular, the latter being the only ‘farm’ animal common to the area, as chickens require acres of flat land to effectively raise. By far the most beloved of their pets are monkeys, which are often breastfed by mothers and released into the wild when of age. Though the Awá do eat monkeys as a source of protein, one that has been welcomed into the family will never be hunted.

Many have good relationships with outsiders

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Though some tribes refuse to establish contact and are openly hostile towards attempts at communication, many work with groups like FUNAI, the Brazilian government body that creates policies to protect indigenous people. The tribes face a number of external threats, from illegal logging and hunting, to trafficking and the spread of disease.

They vary massively in size

Amazon Family
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The Yanomami, a tribe that settled on the border between Brazil and Venezuela, is currently thought to number around 29,000 people. The largest, like the Tikuna, can reach around 40,000. This number can be as low as five or six depending on location, and one tribe is believed to have a sole survivor. No outsiders have been able to contact him, though locals know him as ‘the man in the hole’ due to him often being spotted digging traps or hideaways.

Girls can spend a year in isolation as a ritual

Amazon children
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The Tikuna tribe is driven primarily by cultural practices, which includes selling ornate jewellery and crafts to outsiders, and openly discussing their histories and struggles. One of the Tikuna’s coming-of-age rituals for young girls involves isolating themselves from the tribe for an entire year. During this ceremony, the girls can only talk to their grandmother, who will teach them how to cook, weave and care for children. They are then welcomed back to the tribe as women and a three-day celebration begins.

Some use frog venom for rituals

Giant monkey frog
Credit: David Stang via Wikimedia Commons

Shamans are common across tribal communities, revered as wise healers who are in touch with the natural and spiritual forces that surround them. Shamans of the Matsés tribe commonly conduct a ritual before hunting, by extracting the venom from the giant monkey frog and rubbing it over burns placed on a hunter’s flesh. Scientists have found that the venom contains analgesic or painkilling properties.

Chiefs are given unique funerals

Amazon Tribe
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When elders of the Yawalapiti tribe pass, their tribe conducts an extravagant funeral procession. Adorning themselves in paint and feathers, they walk through the chief’s land playing musical instruments as onlookers mourn. At the height of the ceremony, warriors from nine different branches of the tribe dance and wrestle as the crowd surrounds them, this goes on until the early hours of the morning.