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PBS 'captures' the life of a Stone Age tribe

Deep in the rain forest of the Amazon, a tribe of ''savages'' is trying desperately to stay alive, while ''civilization'' - in the form of lumber companies and farmers - encroaches on their till-now private preserve. What may be a harbinger of disasters to come - television cameras - have also now invaded their jungle paradise: Nomads of the Rain Forest (PBS, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 8-9 p.m. , check local listings for repeats).

One of television's consistently finest series, ''Nova,'' managed to maneuver its way deep into the tropical rain forest of eastern Ecuador, complete with camera and anthropologist (Dr. James Yost), to film some nomadic Waorani (''Wah-ore-ahdi'') Indians going about their daily lives in jungle clearings. These Waoranis, totally naked, are ferocious toward outsiders (they killed the first five missionaries who landed in their midst), and hostile toward brother Waoranis from other settlements. But the TV camera shows they are gentle with their own families.

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One of the few remaining Stone Age peoples in the world, the Waoranis are unique: Their language resembles no other known language.

The men spend most of their time hunting food in the form of wild animals - peccaries and monkeys - with blow guns. The film shows how they make these instruments and also how they secretly prepare the poison - curare - with which they tip their darts.

The women weave and cultivate manioc, peanuts, and plantains. But there seems to be no sense of hierarchy based on the kind of work one does - men, women, and children are treated with equality. Members of each tribe live together in extended families, sharing everything.

This extraordinary film was produced by Grant Behrman of the New York Explorers Club, and it is narrated by Richard Kiley. According to ''Nova,'' Mr. Behrman's motivation for doing the film was his conviction that extinction of the Waorani culture could be imminent. Certainly it is a worthy and noble effort and a fascinating film. But this viewer wonders if intruding a camera crew into what had been a natural habitat and turning the Indians into self-conscious actors does not in itself contribute to their extinction.

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