Jungle Journey: Living With an Isolated Amazon Tribe

Each family has its own area of the hut, where they tie up their hammocks and store their belongings. The Bear ties up hammocks for Almin and me right next to where he and his wife and children sleep. This will be our home for four days.

In the darkness of the hut, lit only by fires and flashlights, we're surrounded by the curious. Most of them children. I do my best to communicate greetings.

Everyone here is extremely receptive. It's hard to tell who's more curious about whom.

The first thing we notice is that the Enawene Nawe wear very limited amounts of clothing. (Although, to our surprise, we do see people wearing T-shirts, which they get from health workers and anthropologists who visit.)

Also: everyone has the same haircut -- men, women and children. In the back, it's like a mullet; in front it's a Three Stooges-style bowl cut.

Once our hammocks are tied up and our fire is lit, the crowd clears out and we try to get some sleep.

Just a few hours later, however, we're woken up to a strange sound coming from outside the hut.

It's 4:30 in the morning and the male members of the Enawene Nawe are engaged in an ancient ritual. They're circled around a bonfire, chanting in deep rhythmic tones.

Their religion governs nearly every aspect of their lives. They believe that the demanding spirits they serve could wipe them out if they don't follow a very detailed script every day. The ceremony is sacred, but the men don't seem to mind our approaching and filming. It lasts until dawn.

Different Way of Life

As the sun comes up, we get our first clear glimpse of the village. There are about 500 people living there, in about a dozen huts built in a circle around a main courtyard.

We see men going off to tend their gardens in the forests, carrying bows and arrows (in case they encounter a jaguar), women gathering wood for the morning fires, and parrots waddling around, snacking.

We're again surrounded by kids, staring and laughing. Some of them are carving up raw stalks of sugar cane for breakfast.

The pace here couldn't be more different from our world. The list of daily activities is quite short.

Fishing is a big one.

The Enawene Nawe use ancient fishing methods, like submerging poison roots in water, which stuns the fish, who then float to the surface.

They also use more modern tools, like motor boats, goggles and swim trunks, which they've also acquired from their limited contacts with the outside.

We notice, though, that they only seem to latch onto the bits of modernity that help them live their ancient lives more easily. Just because they use some of our technology does not mean they want to live like us.

While we're out fishing, I ask the Bear if he could ever imagine living like we do. "I don't want that way of life at all," he says. "Absolutely not."

(To communicate, we have to use several translators. The translation goes from Enawene Nawe to Portuguese to English. It's quite a process.)

They fish and live by a simple rule: Take only what you need. Nothing more.

This notion is reinforced by their faith. They tell stories of the spirits killing tribe members who over-fished.

Faith, Food, Family

Their faith also requires them to share in order to survive out here in the supremely inhospitable jungle. Interestingly, that means that that extramarital affairs are accepted, for both sexes. (Although it's not considered to be polite to discuss this openly, we're told.)

One couple invites us in for lunch.

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