‘victory’ for brazilian Indigenous rights activists

So implies this piece at the Guardian this morning.  The subtitle reads: ‘Troops begin evicting ranchers and loggers from Maranhão state in eastern Amazon, home of endangered Awá tribal group’  More about whether or not it’s a ‘victory’ for the Awá later, as the odds are that it will be rather short term, in any event.  But let’s call it at least a ‘temporary stay of annihilation’ for now.

But the story had made me go in search of a video I used to have on my Posterous blogsite about one uncontacted tribe in Brazil, wondering if they may have been Awá.

It seems not to have been, this tribe lives on the border in Peru, but the short video from 2011 is lovely, gentle, and respectful, and is worth a thousand more words, and is instructive as background for the rest of the story.

From the Guardian:

‘Indigenous rights campaigners hailed a rare victory in Brazil this week as government troops began evicting illegal settlers from an area that belongs to one of the world’s most endangered tribal groups.

The Awá population has been decimated along with the eastern Amazonian forests upon which its nomadic people depend. Disease, murder and the loss of habitat are thought to have reduced their numbers to 450.

Although the Brazilian government demarcated their territory in Maranhão state more than 10 years ago, the Awá reserve has been increasingly infringed upon by ranchers, loggers and landless farmers.

Last week the government announced it would comply with a court order and evict the settlers. In an online statement, the government’s indigenous affairs department, Funai, said the army, police, justice ministry and environment officials would be involved in the operation.’

The piece quotes Stephen Corry of Survival International, a group that helped to save the tribe as saying that all eyes will be on the Brazilian government to keep complete the operation ahead of the World Cup in June.

The ‘settlers’, or ‘invasores’, are loggers, oil companies, and ‘landless rural workers’ who have often killed, poached game, and burned houses of the Awá.  It seems that British actor Colin Firth and a few friends had joined the campaign to save the remaining tribal members.  The voiceover mentions seeing footprints of the as yet ‘uncontacted’ people without further explanation.  Perhaps their having run away made them such.  They certainly do seem to have been contacted by now, and have been decimated by the encounters.

The Guardian quotes a federal judge who called it genocide, and while this delayed response by the government is indeed wonderful, it may prove too little, too late, and insufficient for the future.  Here’s the situation:

‘Tensions are likely to persist both here and in other areas demarcated as indigenous lands. Native populations have been slaughtered since the arrival of the first European settlers. They now comprise less than half a per cent of Brazil’s population of 199 million, but their territories cover 13% of the country’s land.

The farm lobby is desperate to change this. It is proposing a constitutional revision – known as PEC215 – that would shift responsibility for demarcation from Funai to congress, which is heavily dominated by agricultural interests. In December, one farm group in Mato Grosso do Sul held a fundraising drive to support “resistance” by agriculturalists against indigenous groups.

Troops have been dispatched to restore order on several occasions. Over Christmas more than 100 members of the Tenharim tribe in Amazonas state were forced to flee when a mob of angry settlers descended on their village and burned several buildings to the ground. This followed accusation and counter-accusation over the disputed death of the Tenharim chief and the disappearance of three non-indigenous men.’

The FUNAI is essentially Brazil’s version of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in the States.  You may also remember that the green-washing of carbon credit trading allows those industries to decimate rainforests in Brazil and other places to plant all sorts of GMO and other ‘green fuels’.  What a system.

Survivalinternational.org has more on the story, plus photos of the military relocation operation.  The site also carries more stories on global Indigenous under threat around the world, including the San Bushmen of the Kalahari, the chromosomal cradle of the human race from which all other races evolved on their pilgrimages out of the Kalahari.


Several of Botswana’s San Bushmen recently held a press conference accusing the government of persecution and abuse of their tribe.

‘Bushmen of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) were forced from their homes in three waves of evictions from 1997 to 2005. In May 2013, the government attempted to evict Bushmen from another community, Ranyane, which lies outside the reserve.

Despite court rulings that the forced removal of Bushmen is unlawful, government authorities have continued to harass the Bushmen nationwide, making their lives virtually impossible.

The majority of the CKGR Bushmen are now forced to apply for permits to enter their home in the reserve. Families are separated under a system akin to South Africa’s apartheid-era pass laws: only the applicants specifically named in the court case can move freely in and out of the reserve.

Alongside the restriction of their movement, Bushmen are prevented from hunting inside the CKGR, a fundamental part of their livelihood, and the government refused to reinstate the Bushmen’s only water borehole in the reserve after it was dismantled by government forces during the last wave of evictions.

Bushmen told Survival, ‘Preventing our children from living freely with their parents inside the CKGR is against our human rights. We’re asking the government to meet with us face to face to finally discuss these issues that we cannot abide by anymore.’

UncontactedTribes.org has too many tragic tales to tell, but one concerns the Akuntsu:


‘No-one speaks their language, so the precise details of what happened to them may never be known. But when agents of Brazil’s Indian affairs department FUNAI contacted them in 1995, they found that the cattle ranchers who had taken over the Indians’ land had massacred almost all the tribe, and bulldozed their houses to try to cover up the massacre.

There are now just five surviving Akuntsu. When they die, the tribe will become extinct.’

The whole concept of ‘Missionaries’ seriously irk, and the page’s paragraphs about some of the arrogance and unwitting calamities they’ve brought to the uncontacted tribes are grievous to read, and have been historicall repeated all over Turtle Island, Africa and around the world.  The confounding hubris…

‘Christian missionaries, who have been making first contact with tribes for five hundred years, are still trying to do so today. Often believing that the tribes are ‘primitive’ and living pitiful lives ‘in the dark’, the missionaries’ ultimate aim is to convert them to Christianity – at whatever cost to the tribal peoples’ own health and wishes.

In Peru, just a few years ago, evangelical Protestant missionaries built a village in one of the remotest parts of the Peruvian Amazon with the aim of making contact with an uncontacted tribe living in that region. They succeeded in making contact with four people: one man and three women. The man, known as Hipa, told a Survival researcher about first contact: ‘I was eating peanuts when I heard the missionaries coming in a motor-boat. When I heard the motor-boat’s engine running, I said to myself, ‘What’s happening? A motor-boat! People are coming!’ When we saw them, we went and hid deeper in the undergrowth. The missionaries called, ‘Come out! Come out!’

Members of the New Tribes Mission, a fundamentalist missionary organisation based in the US, carried out a clandestine mission to make contact with the Zo’é of Brazil to convert them to Christianity. Between 1982 and 1985 the missionaries flew over the Zo’é’s villages dropping gifts. They then built a mission station only several days’ walk from the Indians’ villages. Following their first real contact in 1987, 45 Zo’é died from epidemics of flu, malaria and respiratory diseases transmitted by the missionaries.’

The chronicle gets even worse as it describes the consequences that led to the Zo’é having to finally depend almost totally on the mission.  The good news is that the government did expel the missionaries finally in 1991, and the tribe is now receiving medical care and increasing in population.

From To’o, an Awá man, explaining what colonialism has done to his people and the land:

‘If the Awá Indians have to leave their land, it will be very difficult. We can’t live anywhere else because here there are forest fruits and wild animals. We couldn’t survive without forest because we don’t know how to live like white people who can survive in deforested areas. For years we have been fleeing up these rivers, with the whites chasing us, cutting down all our forest.

‘In the old days there were lots of howler monkeys and deer but today there’s very little left, because the forest has been chopped down. The colonists round here make things difficult for us because they hunt game too.

‘We are getting cornered as the whites close in on us. They’re always advancing, and now they are on top of us. We are always fleeing. We love the forest because we were born here and we know how to live off the forest. We don’t know about agriculture and commerce and we can’t speak Portuguese. We depend on the forest. Without the forest we’ll be gone, we’ll be extinct.

‘Every day as the white population by our reserve increases so do diseases like malaria and flu, and we have to share the game with the settlers. They have guns, so they kill more game than us. We are very worried about the lack of game and being able to feed our children in the future.’

Yes, what a familiar story, as per: the Indigenous vs. Colonizers (not settlers! ) No, the unwitting or cavalier purveyors of various versions of Manifest Destiny!)

They have guns.’

Awa tribespeople in Brazil

‘Awá men travel down a road cut by loggers.’ Illegally, I’d add.

And fancy that these photos have been copyrighted by the same folks who are ‘saving them’.  I think that’s just plain wrong.  I am happy to liberate them for you and me.

12 responses to “‘victory’ for brazilian Indigenous rights activists

  1. Good Afternoon, wendyedavis

    Thanks for the post, I’m having a bit of a hard time imagining that any of these tribes had any autonomy left to lose. The font of knowledge about how to live with the forest that becomes history, along with these people will never be comprehended.

    We can label and criticise what has gone on there for centuries, the crimes against their indigenous humanity i.e. with perfect irony “the missionary position.” Not trying to be flippant with that, this is sad and hopefully some memories of the past can be preserved through whatever remnants exist.

  2. afternoon, nonquixote. ‘little autonomy left to lose’… i reckon you’re right, but mainly since they’ve been squeezed and accordioned into effectively ever smaller spaces. it’s just so unbearably sad that the modern world considers them so expendable or unworthy as to pretend they don’t even exist, without star power forcing the issue, at any rate.

    i’d been working on the 20th anniversary of the zapatista uprising when i got waylaid by this news, and they were experiencing much the same treatment, but they had guns. and used them once they reckoned that their literal survival was at risk. i dunno how many were killed in the bombing raids after they seized the five towns, but they do appear to be surviving and thriving now.

    so heartbreaking, all of it.

    i reckon in the end that the brazillian congress will have its way, and as they ask, ‘where then can we go?’ whooosh.

  3. Again this is a subject about which I know so little. I am just a little sad that colonization and missionary works seem to go hand in hand – or at least one follows the other. The alternate view of things perhaps is epitomized here in New Mexico (not to say that it completely answers your indictment, wendye, but I offer it nonetheless.)

    The Spanish conquerors ruled here for eighty years (approx.) and then were driven out by the indigenous tribes, murders and much hardship being involved in that expulsion, during which Spanish settlers made their own version of the Long Walk southward to safety.

    Twelve years later they were asked to come back, and so they did. There had been famine in those twelve years, and the tribes were not sufficiently schooled in survival during those lean years, or they took the droughts as a sign of divine disapproval – whatever. Certainly problems on both sides of the issue. No human being is perfect.

    The Spanish returned carrying their statue of Mary, named in the entry ‘La Conquistadora’.

    Another example I will give is that of the nuns and priests who have died defending native people from the exploitation of the state. Without them, who would be doing that? Not to many of other persuasions are prepared to give their lives, though I will freely admit there are some.

    Christian missionaries gave Slavs their alphabet and ethical teachings. Some did not follow but gave lip service only, but I submit that those risking their lives did so out of a fundamental adherence to the code of Christ and were themselves poor in following that code.

    I am getting very tired of being universally tarred with the same brush as the hypocrites – that is very shallow reasoning indeed. Just as the pope said to Christians that they must be open to truths best expressed by other human beings of different conviction, so should those others be willing to forego casting all Christians as monsters and community destroyers. That, to me, is drinking another kind of koolaid.

  4. Sorry, that comment was way over the top – I was trying too hard and it doesn’t relate to the meat of your excellent diary. I do very much apologize as it was just frustration in general and not an appropriate response. What is happening to this tribe in particular ought to be the subject here, and for them the situation sounds really dire. Sorry again.

  5. juliania,

    I fear that I am somewhat guilty of drinking that other koolaid above in my comment. Historical “separation of church and state,” however sincere the religious practitioners in their beliefs or intentions, has always been a puzzle that I guess will never be completely known. My thinking has always been that less educated practitioners of either religion or government could always be easily manipulated by leadership. Thank you for making the point though.

  6. apology accepted, juliania, and i’d like to think that you’d take it on faith none of the information or opinion i brought to bear on this subject was in any way meant to disparage you, or even your faith.

    yes, you’ve brought some better examples, and they may indeed be relevant. i might even make wondering sounds about the first americans who suffered sociocide under the mormons in the west, and their progeny joined the mormon church, once they were allowed to. who can say why?

    for me, the history of missionary work having disastrous unintended consequences, as in these stories, is underpinned by exactly what i’d mentioned: hubris. and the arrogance that comes with absolutist beliefs that one’s god, one’s religion, is The Way, as in: the only way. is that not akin to the fundamentalism that the pope abjured recently? i’d thought that was what he’d meant.

    similarly, when my in-laws and many others tout their ‘missionary work’ at a soup kitchen for a week or so, and i discover that the needy must pray with them in order to receive their meals, i recoil at the hubris and wrongness of it. when obomba decided to fund the lion’s share of grants to the needy through faith-based programs in inner cities, with the explanation that those organizations already were up and running, i didn’t like it, but tried to see his point.

    yes, the mary knolls i central american (nicaragua? el salvador?) defended the indigenous magnificently, and many paid for it with death, tragically. so no, i hadn’t meant to paint with that broad brush, and i am sorry you took offense.

    do you recall the book ‘the ugly american’. iirc, the same theme was involved: that one nation’s ambassadors (or peace corps volunteers) could so discount a culture, a people, that they were positive that they knew what was best for them. i really didn’t understand the book when i first read it as a young whippersnapper, i might add. now it does amuse me. :)

    peace to you, juliania. i seem to be riling up a number of folks today; arrgh.

  7. I think at least one commenter at FDL was somehow riled for reasons way beyond your words. I see they lost their service for the moment. Keep the diaries coming.

  8. it took decades before i finally realized how often people used me as an alter-ego in different kerfuffles, and then i did figure out why, at last. it must have something to do with my perhaps (ahem) overly-developed personality, as far as i’ve been able to conclude. but that particular commenter has said many things that people ignored in praise of his posts, and…i tried to object to. like: we need an armed revolution by snipers because it would suit the left, who object to those on the periphery being killed. (wot?) other things, as well, that i won’t reproduce here.

    thanks, nonquixote. tomorrow’s bread day, so don’t know if i’ll get the zapatista piece finished.

  9. Well said, wendye, and I immediately realized my hasty generalizations didn’t belong here.

    No, not you riling me up but my own regrettable grandiosity – a throwback to lengthy arguments I used to have on the subject of religion on the Now boards, thankfully somehow erased – though no doubt NASA has them carefully filed in a cobwebby corner of the bbb (big black building) for future discoverers of our steamy planet to puzzle over.

  10. i’m certainly familiar with past traumatic discussions or event boomeranging back at me when certain words or themes are mentioned. but i’m so glad that you seem to know that none of this was aimed your way.

    i’d just been tripping out as well at the well-intentioned folks at missionary schools teaching the turtle island native children stolen from their parents, whose hair was cut off, and lived and often died with rules that they weren’t allowed to speak their own languages or practice their own religions. and yes, my blood boils at the knowledge of that, and so does the blood of many first americans on the continent, and rightfully so.

    pbs did a series called ‘we shall remain’ a year or two ago, and the featured segments of tribes in our area were aired, and a number of the folks interviewed had lived in those boarding schools, and spoke of the pain, the deaths, and all. ‘america’s original sins’ include both slavery and first american genocides, and the latter is sadly ongoing even now. the good news is the burgeoning number of native people writing well-received books and making their own films. they will begin to change the discussion and general awareness.

    oh. i reckon you weren’t lookin’ for me to write a whole chapter of a book, were you? damned verbosity: be gone! love ya, ww.

  11. It was indeed Orwellian before there was even Orwell that such atrocities have taken place, hopefully in the past, though you can see still remnants of culture oppression in places like the Texas schools.

    I had a faintly similar experience being the only non-Catholic in a Catholic high school for two years, even though that doesn’t touch on what so many indigenous children experienced torn from their families and not allowed even to speak their own language. Still, I got a whiff of what it felt like to submerge into a different culture, and being the only different one was very upsetting at times but I’m now glad I went through that. I like what it taught me.

  12. the only vague similarity i’d ever experienced was as an anglo in truchas, being considered a second- or -third- class citizen. mail and packages opened, no recourse to ‘the law’, which was largely vigilante with star badges, and not knowing spanish meant we never understood what was said about us *right in front of us*. egad.

    but i agree; it was a very good experience to have gone through, and likely made me much more sensitive to the plight of the different, and often ‘differently colored’. but add in: differently abled, gendered, tra la la…

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