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Marubo tribe receive the Starlink antenna system that brought them the internet.

First World Problems Come to Tribe that was Delivered the Internet By Starlink

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In September of last year, the Marubo tribe, residing deep within the Amazon rainforest, was introduced to the Internet through Starlink, Elon Musk’s satellite-based broadband service. This significant technological leap has had profound effects on the tribe, bringing both remarkable benefits and unexpected challenges, including a concerning rise in pornography addiction among its younger members. 

The Arrival of the Internet in the Amazon 

According to an extensive report in the New York Times, the Marubo tribe, a remote indigenous community living in the Javari Valley—one of the most isolated regions on Earth—had minimal exposure to the modern digital world until recently. But thanks to the generosity of businesswoman Allyson Reneau, who donated 20 Starlink antennas, the tribe gained access to the Internet, marking the beginning of a new era for the community. 

A Starlink antenna set up in a Marubo village deep in the Amazon rainforest. 

A Starlink antenna set up in a Marubo village deep in the Amazon rainforest. (Navi Global) 

Upon its arrival, the Internet was greeted with enthusiasm and excitement. The connectivity allowed the Marubo to contact authorities quickly in emergencies, share educational resources with other tribes, and stay in touch with friends and family living in distant areas. “The Internet has already saved lives,” said Enoque, a 40-year-old tribe member. 

Teenagers, in particular, found new aspirations, dreaming of traveling the world and pursuing professional careers. 

The Dark Side of Connectivity 

However, this newfound access to the Internet has also brought significant challenges. The tribe’s leader, Alfredo Marubo, expressed concern about the rapid changes in the community’s social dynamics. Explicit videos are often shared in group chats among young men, raising fears about the influence of such content on their behavior. “Everyone is so connected that sometimes they don’t even talk to their own family,” Alfredo told the New York Times. Other leaders noted an increase in "more aggressive" sexual behavior among some members, likely influenced by the explicit content they encountered online, writes All That’s Interesting. 

Tsainama, a 73-year-old elder, acknowledged the dual nature of the Internet’s impact: 

When it arrived, everyone was happy. But now things have gotten worse.

Despite these issues, she and others still value the connectivity it brings, urging, “But please don’t take away the internet from us.” 

 

Marubo tribe members with the Starlink satellite system. (Navi Global) 

Balancing Benefits and Drawbacks 

The introduction of the Internet to the Marubo tribe has led to a variety of problems familiar to modern societies: teenagers glued to their phones, gossip-filled group chats, addictive social networks, and exposure to inappropriate content. This rapid cultural shift has prompted tribal leaders to limit Internet access to specific times—two hours each morning, five hours in the afternoon, and all-day Sunday—to mitigate its negative impacts. 

The Internet's arrival has also sparked a cultural shift within the Marubo tribe. Many members, especially the youth, are increasingly adopting behaviors and customs observed online. “They can’t get away from their phones,” said one adult representative. Concerns have been raised about the tribe’s young members becoming “lazy because of the internet” and preferring to spend their afternoons in front of their smartphones rather than engaging in traditional activities. 

Adapting to Modernity 

Despite these challenges, the Marubo tribe continues to navigate the complexities of integrating modern technology into their traditional way of life. Many tribe members purchased smartphones using social assistance checks from the government, enabling them to document their lives and communicate over long distances. The community, which once relied solely on bows and arrows, now uses firearms and chainsaws, a testament to their adaptability. 

The Marubo’s transition to modernity began in the late 19th century with the arrival of rubber tappers. This initial exposure to outside technology set the stage for their current embrace of digital connectivity. Enoque, a leader who has balanced life between the forest and the city, exemplifies this blending of worlds. Having worked as a graphic designer for Coca-Cola, he now promotes a measured update to modernity within the tribe. 

Moving Forward 

As the Marubo tribe continues to adapt to the digital age, finding a balance between preserving their cultural heritage and embracing the benefits of modern technology remains crucial. The challenges they face highlight the broader impact of the Internet on isolated communities worldwide. The story of the Marubo serves as a poignant reminder of the complexities inherent in integrating ancient traditions with contemporary advancements. 

Top image: Marubo tribe receive the Starlink antenna system that brought them the internet. Source: Navi Global 

References 

Morgan, A, 2024. ‘A Remote Amazon Tribe Connected To The Internet For The First Time — And Many Members Are Now Addicted To Porn And Social Media’. Al that’s Interesting. Available at: https://allthatsinteresting.com/marubo-tribe-starlink 

 
Gary Manners's picture

Gary

Gary is an editor and content manager for Ancient Origins. He has a BA in Politics and Philosophy from the University of York and a Diploma in Marketing from CIM. He has worked in education, the educational sector, social work... Read More

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