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.’
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.