“The Last of the Tribe”

The fate of the Amazonian rainforest is one that concerns us all. Yet as the American journalist Monte Reel suggests in this excellent book, the closer you get to the problem, the harder it is to see your way clearly. Yes, deforestation is an environmental catastrophe, and the rights of indigenous peoples’ is a hot issue, but many in Brazil see international pressure on loggers and the like as hypocritical.

The US slaughtered their Indians, and made the most of their natural resources, so who are they to tell developing countries how to behave?

Reel tells this big story through a small one: the discovery of a lone Indian living deep in the Brazilian rainforest. The Contact Front is the government group tasked with protecting the remaining tribes-people, but is a single Indian a tribe? And what if he doesn’t want to be contacted, even by the good guys?

Reel teases out the paradoxes – and high drama – of anthropology in action.

The Last of the Tribe
Monte Reel
Scribner, 2010

— By Jonathan Gibbs

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2010