‘Lost’ Amazonian Tribe Adopts Social Media

LIMA, PERU: Though not a single member of the tribe owns a computer, the Ooshkoosh are embracing Social Media.

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It has been 3 weeks since anthropologists in Peru announced the discovery of a previously un-contacted indigenous people native to the Amazon rain forest. Dubbed the ‘Lost’ Amazonian tribe, the Ooshkoosh are a tightly knit community of micro-farmers and artisans that until recently, hid entirely within the dense jungles of the Reserva Territorial Murunahua on the border shared by Peru and Brazil.

Since their discovery, media attention from all over the globe has swarmed the Ooshkoosh people. As the new entrants to the world stage interact with visitors and learn more about the technological advances of the developed world, one phenomenon continues to garner immense intrigue from the community: Facebook.

“It is a big world, with so many new friends” says Srilanka, speaking through her Panoan interpreter provided by Brazil’s National Indian Foundation (FUNAI). Srilanka is a 12 year old Ooshkoosh girl whose father makes textiles for the village. “Of course, we were impressed by the metal birds and talk boxes [the Ooshkoosh do not have words for airplane or mobile phone], but ‘Facebag’!” [Facebook. The Ooshkoosh do not have books. ‘Bag’ is a loose translation.] “Facebag is amazing” she says…”so many things to like, so many kittens.”

Artisans like Srilanka’s father Tim see the value of Facebook differently. Micro-business owners in the village already recognize marketing potential for social media tactics and they are eager to acclimate themselves and the community to the norms of communicating through social media. “We don’t yet have the infrastructure to support internet access, but that does not mean we can’t begin preparing to use Facebag.” says Tim as he gnaws on a jerky made of Daceton, a large white ant common in the Amazon. “We need to learn how to make and sort friends and how to like things too.”

Tim and his brother Ahnananah operate a boutique clothing store in the village. “We specialize in vintage apparel” Ahnananah explains as he shows me a faded tain ti, literally “acorn sack”, a traditional covering for a man’s groin. “This was my grandfather’s” he says, pressing the cloth to his nose and breathing in. I can sense his deep appreciation for tradition.

Tim and Ahnananah are among the first Ooshkoosh business owners to adopt marketing tactics in preparation for widespread use of Facebook in the community. The pair erected a large sign in front of their boutique where shoppers can publicly “like” the store. The sign also includes an infographic indicating hours of operation and information on exchange rates for common currency. Lacking a formal written language, infographics have taken off among the Ooshkoosh. Tim and Ahnananah plan to experiment with Pinterest as well.

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“30 years” says Tim, “30 years with no way of knowing if we were liked or whether we had friends at all. Now, we know we’re liked. And we know exactly how many friends we have. I have never felt more at ease with our place in the market.

The boutique’s new signage has drawn a lot of attention from other local business owners interested in learning from Tim and Ahnananah’s success. Many are too skeptical to adjust their marketing plans before the installation of the village’s first computer, but they watch the boutique carefully for tips on best practices to implement when the time is right.

Shakira is a 21 year old micro-farmer. Her plot in the village abuts to the clothing boutique. There, she and her husband Riki tend to fruits and vegetables that sustain the village. They too recognize the value of social media, particularly for distribution. Standing proudly in front of their small tract, Shikria tells me of their plans to use social media to connect with new markets for organically grown papailla. “I can’t wait to share my melons with the world.” she says, smiling at her husband.

While the technology is new to the Ooshkoosh, it is clear that Social Media will play an important role in the future of the community. As adult business leaders evaluate the economic impact of new communication tools like Facebook, the village children have begun preparing to use Twitter; climbing high into tall trees and shouting short phrases at their friends below. Their enthusiasm to share every random thought they have with the entire village is heartwarming.

This reporter and dozens of other field correspondents are amazed and delighted at how quickly the Ooshkoosh are adopting social media. As the world continues to learn more about their rich culture, the steps they take now to understand our complex communication schemes will surely ease future relations. We just hope they ‘like’ us as much as we have grown to ‘like’ them.

– P. S.Queak
The “Associated” Press