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Shortly before midnight on August 2, 1981, a Panamanian-registered freighter called the Primrose, which was traveling in heavy seas between Bangladesh and Australia with a cargo of poultry feed, ran aground on a coral reef in the Bay of Bengal. As dawn broke the next morning, the captain was probably relieved to see dry land just a few hundred yards from the Primrose's resting place: a low-lying island, several miles across, with a narrow beach of clean white sand giving way to dense jungle. If he consulted his charts, he realized that this was North Sentinel Island, a western outlier in the Andaman archi-pelago, which belongs to India and stretches in a ragged line between Burma and Sumatra. But the sea was too rough to lower the lifeboats, and so - since the ship seemed to be in no danger of sinking - the captain decided to keep his crew on board and wait for help to arrive.
A few days later, a young sailor on lookout duty in the Primrose's watch tower spotted several people coming down from the forest toward the h and peering out at the stranded vessel. They must be a rescue party sent by the shipping company, he thought. Then he took a closer look at them. They were small men, well-built, frizzy-haired, and black. They were naked except for narrow belts that circled their waists. And they were holding spears, bows, and arrows which they had begun waving in a manner that seemed not altogether friendly. Not long after this, a wireless operator at the Regent Shipping Company's offices in Hong Kong received an urgent distress call from the Primrose's captain, asking for an immediate airdrop of firearms so that his crew could defend itself. "Wild men, estimate more than 50, carrying various home-made weapons are making two or three wooden boats," the message read. "Worrying they will board us at sunset. All crew members' lives not guaranteed."
Skin painted bright red, heads partially shaved, arrows drawn back in the longbows and aimed square at the aircraft buzzing overhead. The gesture is unmistakable: Stay Away.
Behind the two men stands another figure, possibly a woman, her stance also seemingly defiant. Her skin painted dark, nearly black.
The apparent aggression shown by these people is quite understandable. For they are members of one of Earth's last uncontacted tribes, who live in the Envira region in the thick rainforest along the Brazilian-Peruvian frontier.
Thought never to have had any contact with the outside world, everything about these people is, and hopefully will remain, a mystery.
Their extraordinary body paint, precisely what they eat (the anthropologists saw evidence of gardens from the air), how they construct their tent-like camp, their language, how their society operates - the life of these Amerindians remains a mystery.
'We did the overflight to show their houses, to show they are there, to show they exist,' said Brazilian uncontacted tribes expert José Carlos dos Reis Meirelles Junior. 'This is very important because there are some who doubt their existence.'
Meirelles, who despite once being shot in the shoulder by an arrow fired by another tribe campaigns to protect these peoples, believes this group's numbers are increasing, and pointed out how strong and healthy the people seemed.
But other uncontacted groups in the region, whose homes have been photographed from the air, are in severe danger from illegal logging in Peru and populations are being decimated.