Education And Debate

Letter from Brasilia: Some primitive peoples of the tropics

BMJ 1994; 308 doi: (Published 23 April 1994) Cite this as: BMJ 1994;308:1095
  1. P D Marsden
  1. Nucleo de Medicina Tropical, Universidade de Brasilia CP 10 2382 CEP 70840 Brasilia DF, Brazil.

    Few “primitive” peoples now exist, as Western communications, material goods, and forms of transport have swept the globe. Through studying malaria I came into contact with several primitive tribes, including the people of Wingei and Wam in the Sepik area of New Guinea and the Brazilian Indians of the Amazon. The Brazilian Indians are true environmental ecologists, wasting nothing and knowing how to conserve stocks of fish, animals, and fruits. All these primitive groups seemed to suffer from tinea imbricata, caused by Trichophyton concentricum and characterised by whirled fungal scales over the skin and often a smell of gorgonzola cheese.

    “Primitive” people are rapidly disappearing as Homo sapiens creates a global monoculture based on such material values as television, refrigeration, and transport modes. My first contact with tribal primitive man was while driving through the Congo basin rainforest in 1963. On a straight stretch of dirt road I saw a man lying prone in the path of my Volkswagen. He seemed to be dead so I stopped and went forward on foot. Suddenly he sat up and at that signal more than a hundred pygmies emerged from the forest and surrounded my car. They were naked except for a small genital cover and carried spears and …

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