It’s a story concocted out of Hollywood. A dashing Brazilian photographer whose chopper is suddenly facing down a major tropical storm deep in the Brazilian rainforest. As the craft rocks and bucks violently, the nervous pilot has no choice but to either call in a Mayday or find a way to fly the hell around the massive black and purple, lightning-streaked cloud. The pilot pulls the stick back hard and the helicopter makes an engine straining turn. The acrobatic aerial maneuver not only proves live-saving, it results in something miraculous. The uncovering of an isolated Neolithic jungle tribe. Roll opening credits.
With indigenous tribes rapidly disappearing from the earth, photographer Ricardo Stuckert’s luck couldn’t have been better, or more serendipitous anyway, when he made the decision to board that helicopter. The high-res photographs he managed to capture of the lost tribe from his precarious perch inside the chopper bay offered a once-in-a-lifetime glimpse back in time. They were quickly snatched up in first-rights grab by National Geographic Magazine.
When describing how he felt about his sudden discovery of the lost tribe, Stuckert told Nat Geo, “I felt like I was a painter in the last century. To think that in the 21st century, there are still people who have no contact with civilization, living like their ancestors did 20,000 years ago—it’s a powerful emotion.”
Stuckert’s up-close-and-personal photos snapped along the Peru/Brazil border at tree-top height bring out details that are baffling even noted scientists and scholars. For instance, the natives in his pictures not only decorate their skin with elaborate body paint and tattoos, but also with what’s been described as “punk” haircuts.
The 48 year old Stuckert had arrived in the Amazonian state of Acre to spend a year deep inside dangerous jungle territory photographing indigenous tribes all across Brazil and lower Peru. A month into his exploration, the T-shirted adventurer who was armed with numerous cameras and lenses, boarded a chopper with the intent to visit the relatively unknown outpost of Jordão near the Peruvian border. Severe storms suddenly hit and the chopper was forced to detour or else face an emergency situation.
But that’s when Stuckert and his crew miraculously found themselves facing a lost world of huts with thatched roofs, long houses, fire pits, and dozens of alarmed naked natives scattering for cover in the thick woods. About the only thing missing was King Kong.
The lost tribe wasn’t exactly happy to see the intruders. As if encountering an alien space craft, several warrior-like tribesmen began stringing their bows, while another aimed his arrow directly for the chopper. One photo shows a body-painted man wielding a machete as he leaves his longhouse, ready to do battle with the invaders.
But as time went on, the natives seemed to get used to the helicopter as it continued to circle. No doubt Stuckert would have insisted on landing the craft if there had been a suitable break in the foliage, even if Brazilian Amazon authorities maintain strict “no contact” measures over their lost tribal populations.
Said Stuckert after returning home from the expedition, “We live in an age when men have been to the moon. Yet here in Brazil there are people who continue to live as humankind has for tens of thousands of years.”