Rondônia was the final destination for emergency humanitarian aid from the Ecumenical Forum ACT Brazil, via CESE, for indigenous peoples in the Amazon affected by the fires that began in August this year and continue in the region.  With support from the ACT Alliance, the following indigenous lands were supported: Uru Eu Wau Wau, in Rondônia; Tenharim Marmelo, in Amazonas; the Huni Kuin’s Huwã Karu Yuxibu Centre in Acre; Apurinã de Valparaíso, in Amazonas (Boca do Acre) and six indigenous brigades in Maranhão (Caru, Arariboia Jucaraí, Arariboia Zutiua, Gavião, Krikati and Canela).

The emergency aid supplied equipment to combat and prevent fires to indigenous brigades including a total of 139 firefighters, 29 from Tenharim, 20 from Uru Eu Wau Wau and 15 each from the six brigades in Maranhão; fuel and vehicle transport to reach the areas affected by the fires and inspect vulnerable regions; food and allowances for firefighters and their families, who lost their homes and lands.

In August 2019, the Brazilian Amazon fires broke out at double the rate common for this time of year.  The most serious incidences were reported by the Coordination of Indigenous Organizations of the Brazilian Amazon (Coordenação das Organizações Indígenas da Amazônia Brasileira: COIAB), a CESE partner.  The greatest concern continues to be those areas containing isolated indigenous peoples, such as the Uru Eu Wau Wau Indigenous Land (Rondônia), where three isolated groups are registered, and the Arariboia Indigenous Land (Maranhão), where a young Guajajara Guardian of the Forest was killed in a cowardly murder and where fire broke out once again.

To ensure the emergency humanitarian aid reached the affected populations, CESE relied on its partners in the region, particularly COIAB, the IEB, the Council of Mission among Indians (Conselho de Missão entre Índios: COMIN), the Indigenous Missionary Council (Conselho Indigenista Missionário: CIMI) and the Coordination of Organizations and Coalitions of the Indigenous Peoples of Maranhão (Coordenação das Organizações e Articulações dos Povos Indígenas do Maranhão: COAPIMA).


In the case of the Jupaú, as the so-called Uru Eu Wau Wau name themselves, the hunting and gathering areas of approximately 50 families, living in 6 villages, were directly affected, impacting on their food security.  This people made contact less than four decades ago, in 1981.  The opening up of the Trans-Amazonian highway created conflicts in the 1970s and contact, initiated in 1981, continued to bring devastation and death to this people from the Tupi Kawahib family.  Today, although their lands have been demarcated, they suffer constant invasions and part of their territory has been illegally occupied by ranchers.  Land grabbing continues to be the predominant mode for the advance of colonization in this country. The arrival of aid for the Jupaú signified a reinforcement of their permanent resistance, above all, bringing them hope.   In alliances, in people and collectives that understand the right of Indigenous Peoples to exist as they are and to protect the land, our mother.


Protecting paradise 


The Uru Eu Wau Wau woman smiled constantly, light as a butterfly.  She would change her T-shirt and necklaces all the time, showing off her precarious wardrobe. And she laughed, happily, as if there were a child inside that mature woman, already a grandmother.  A beautiful smile, without teeth, without malice.  She embraced me a lot and talked in the words of her Tupi Kawahib family language and I, not understanding, laughed and embraced her back.

Meanwhile, with the help of the young translators, the men and women of this people who didn’t know about our society until 1981, described terrible memories of the time of contact and the great trauma that has befallen the Jupaú, as they call themselves.

Today, with ranches invading, criminal fires destroying thousands of forest hectares, with the proximity of the invaders, a mere 4 km from the village, they talk of sleep disturbed by the sound of gunfire and the roar of engines.  They talk of these things with their faces painted with jenipapo fruit and with bows and beautiful arrows in their hands.

They go out to show us the invaders’ footpaths – along the way, paradise unfolds: the river is limpid, shoals of fish pass under the boat, alligators dive seconds after seeing us, the high treetops along the riverbank are bursting with life, with mutuns, jacus, maguari storks, ciganas and many other birds.  A tayra walks along a tree trunk fallen across the river, elegant, in no hurry.  When it sees the boat, it turns silently and disappears into the jungle.  Later on, a giant otter, frightened by the sound of the outboard motor, dives into the river; a little while later and many meters ahead, a spray of water is a sign of the otter’s successful catch.

In the middle of this paradise and in the calm of the soft voices of the Jupaú, it is almost monstrous to realise that a few kilometres away agribusiness is advancing, grabbing land, destroying everything and planting soya, cattle and death. The Jupaú show us the pathways opened up by the invaders and explain how the process works: groups of 30 or 40 men open up footpaths in the forest and demarcate plots.  They pull down the trees, wait about 90 days, then set fire to the dried and flattened jungle.  Then they throw grass seeds on it, the rain falls and pasture is created.  Over time, fences give the unfailing air of ownership of indigenous land.

With their bows and arrows, their rituals, their joy of life and their intimacy with the forest, the Uru Eu Wau Wau confront and expel these invaders, but they return once again, in the next season of land grabbing.

An indigenous environmental agent talks emotionally about the fruits of the forest, which let people and animals feed themselves; and a woman, another environmental agent, explains that without the forest they would have to buy meat, which is expensive, but which when they kill is free – you only have to hunt, roast and eat it.  Free, if you don’t count the incredible work of the hunter, a highlight on one of our trails, when a tapir crosses the pathway and arrows, faster than thought, fly.   In the river, fishing is joy and silence, the arrows find their mark, breaking the water and hitting the fish – daily food for the village.

Walking with these people in the forest, travelling on the river with them, we realise our fragility, ignorance and blindness.  Where they see, gather and hunt, we would probably die of hunger.  There, in the deepest night of the forest (as the singer says), wisdom, knowledge, power is theirs.

The eternal struggle of David and Goliath, so unequal; the eternal struggle of the Jedi knights, of light and dark; the eternal struggle in Brazilian hearts and minds between justice, beauty, harmony, respect, and greed, destruction, the pretence of knowing everything, the arrogance of all power, devastating blindness.

And if we proposed to evolve into Indians?  Why does the arrow always have to point one way – stop being Indian, if even the arrow of time is not irreversible, as quantum physics has proved?  Why do our choices, as the Brazilian people, exclude and disguise our roots of rape, our huge Tupi womb?  We were never European, we will never be North American, we will never be anything more than what our traumatic and colonizing history has left us.  It is time for true therapy, to examine the traumas, to tremble at violence and plant our feet on real land.  More forest and less Miami, more of the Indian and less of the mongrel complex.

(Mara Vanessa)