Sunday, January 22, 2017

MOVIE REVIEW: First Contact-Lost Tribe of the Amazon (2016)

The image of the young man that you see here is that of the Chief of the Txapanawa, a tribe previously isolated on the extremely remote bank of the Envira River in the village of Simpatia in Brazil. The dramatic first contact of his people with civilization is recorded live and expounded upon within context in the documentary First Contact: Lost Tribe of the Amazon, featuring anthropologist  José Carlos Merielles.

Merielles is a Brazilian sertanista, an explorer backwoodsman who works for FUNAI, a governmental body that establishes and carries out policies related to indigenous people, much like our own Bureau of Indian Affairs. It is a dangerous job and Merielles has the scars to prove it. He was shot in the face with an arrow in 2004 and that may explain why he puffs heavily on an unfiltered cigarette when first encountering the Txapanawa in a home video.


"He's breathing fire!" the Chief cries out fearfully to his naked but armed squad of followers who brave the shallow river crossing to get desperate supplies they need. Merielles and his band let them into the village and they proceed to pillage feverishly through the outpost shanties, grabbing clothes and tools, much to the dismay and warnings of the Brazilians. They know that the Txapanawa will most likely pick up viruses from the objects for which they have no natural immunity to, and thus begins a cautious relationship between indian and white man once again because now they'll need antibiotics. Once dependency starts, it's nearly impossible to stop but the thought of leaving helpless, naked humans alone in the Amazon jungle, as noble as it sounds, is really a difficulty for Merielles and others like him. The natives are needy but can they survive the cost of civilization for a few trinkets and luxury?  History has shown us otherwise.

To be accurate, the previous generation of Txapanawa had unfavorable encounters with white people. Many were enslaved, slaughtered and exploited, so the title of the documentary is a bit misleading. In other words, they are aware of civilization and its benefits but deathly afraid of being betrayed and worse. Stories exist amongst their survivors. But as the Chief admits (once their language is compared to other dialects and translated), they are 'ashamed of their nakedness' and always hungry and always afraid of wild animals and hostile neighbors. Desperation forces first contact for this young man (for there are no old people in this group) and he and his tribe appear relatively content after they are dressed and given hammocks so they no longer have to sleep on the ground.

What's most striking, after they have settled in and have begun to talk more, is the fact that despite lacking everything we take for granted (food, transportation, medicine, etc.,) these people are still basically human. There is no romantic ideal of purity and thought and action. Bloodlust and treachery is a common factor throughout their community and so is adultery, theft and other vices which mankind, despite its advancement, has not nor will not ever overcome. For as Scripture says:

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you?
Don't they come from the evil desires at war within you? (James 4:1)

Merielles quotes Darwin somewhere near the end of this short but thought provoking documentary, but who can prove this dubious Theory of Evolution? Think about the tens of millions of humans killed in the World Wars of the 20th century and also think about humanity now as it cannot escape the threat of a nuclear holocaust, hoping only that reason will save the day. But reason and Law have failed us ultimately for why can't people simply follow the Ten Commandments?  They're reasonable, aren't they? Or what's wrong about not committing murder, or stealing, or lying? But our natures are so imperfect, so far from a theorized, evolved type of man or woman that only the gospel can cut through the thick jungle foliage of self deceit and sin and rescue us from ourselves by the grace of God.  First Contact is available on Netflix streaming for instant viewing to subscribers.