Brazilian Indians Destroy Dam Equipment to Save River They Depend On

Enawenê boys from Brazil Brazilian Indians from the Enawenê Nawê tribe in Brazil's Amazon occupied and shut down the site of a huge hydroelectric dam on Saturday, destroying equipment, in an attempt to save the river that runs through their land.

The Enawenê Nawê say the 77 dams to be built on the Juruena river will pollute the water and stop the fish reaching their spawning grounds. Fish is crucial to the Enawenê Nawê's diet as they do not eat red meat. It also plays a vital part in their rituals.

"If the fish get sick and die so will the Enawenê Nawê," said one member of the tribe.

Companies led by the world's largest soy producers, the Maggi family, are pushing for the construction of the dams. Soy baron Blairo Maggi is also the governor of Mato Grosso state.

The Enawenê Nawê number only five hundred, and live in one village in large communal houses or malocas around a central square. They were first contacted in 1974 by Jesuit missionaries. They chose for many years to have very little interaction with the outside world, but threats to their land have led them to campaign vigorously for their rights.

They live by fishing and gathering in Mato Grosso state, Brazil. They rely on the forest and the rivers and believe their ancestral spirits will respond to the destruction of their land by ranchers.

The Enawenê Nawê are famed for their fishing techniques. During the fishing season, the men build dams across rivers and spend several months camped in the forest, catching and smoking the fish which is then transported by canoe to their village.

Fish is an essential part of their diet and plays a vital part in rituals such as Yãkwa, a four-month exchange of food between humans and spirits.

The Enawenê Nawê grow manioc and corn in gardens and gather forest products. Honey gathering is celebrated in keteoko, or the honey feast, when men collect large amounts of wild honey in the forest and hide it on their return to the village, only revealing it when the women start to dance. Unusually for an Amazonian tribe, they do not hunt or eat red meat.

For decades the Enawenê Nawê have faced invasion of their lands by rubber tappers, diamond prospectors, cattle ranchers and more recently soy planters. Maggi, the largest soy company in Brazil, illegally built a road on their land in 1997. This was subsequently closed by a federal prosecutor.

Although their territory was officially recognized and ratified by the government in 1996, a key area known as the Rio Preto was left out.

This area is tremendously important to the Enawenê Nawê both economically and spiritually - this is where they build their fishing camps and wooden dams, and where many important spirits live.

Survival, the international movement for tribal peoples, is lobbying the Brazilian government to recognize the Rio Preto region as Enawenê Nawê land as a matter of urgency. They are also calling for the hydro-electric dams to be suspended. The organization also supports a land protection project run by the Enawenê Nawê and the Brazilian non-governmental organization OPAN.

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