Guarani Indians in Mato Grosso do Sul state, Brazil, have carried out a courageous “retomada” (re-occupation) of the sugar cane plantation that has taken over their ancestral land. The group is led by a female chief who has seen her husband and three of her children die on the roadside where they have lived for ten years.
Their roadside camp was mysteriously destroyed in a fire last month and gunmen threatened to kill them. The same camp was torched by gunmen in 2009.
In a statement released last week, Damiana Cavanha, the leader of the Apy Ka’y community, said, “We decided to reoccupy part of our traditional land where there is a well of good water and a bit of remaining forest.
“We decided to return to the land where three of our children, who were run over and torn apart by vehicles belonging to the ranches, are buried; where two leaders who were assassinated by gunmen employed by the ranchers, and where a 70 year old shaman who died from inhaling pesticides sprayed from a crop-spraying plane, are also buried.”
This is the fourth time the Apy Ka’y community has re-occupied its “tekoha” (ancestral land) in Brazil’s Mato Grosso do Sul state since ranchers moved in almost 15 years ago. Every time the Guarani returned, the ranchers evicted them by force and the community has been living by the side of the road in squalid and perilous conditions for the last ten years.
The Apy Ka’y Guarani are now at great risk. They have already received three death threats and say that an attempt was made to poison their water supply after the re-occupation on Sunday.
The ranch that has taken over their land is now employing a notorious security firm to intimidate the Indians. Public Prosecutors in Brazil have described the firm, Gaspem, as a “private militia”, and called for it to be closed down.
A 2009 report on the community’s treatment for the Public Prosecutor’s office concluded, “it is no exaggeration to talk of genocide.”
Damiana added in the statement, “Faced with the threat of death, the loss of our relatives and so much suffering and pain, we decided for the fourth time to reoccupy our land, Apy Ka’y, on September 15, 2013.
“We have decided to fight and die for our land.”
The situation of the Apy Ka’y is not unusual for the Guarani in Brazil, who are becoming increasingly desperate as they suffer violent attacks at the hands of ranchers occupying their ancestral land.
Disillusioned by the government’s slow progress in demarcating their land, several Guarani communities have carried out retomadas in recent years.
Human Rights Organization Survival International’s Director Stephen Corry said that, “The government’s failure to restore land to the Guarani is shameful and illegal, and has been catastrophic for the Indians. President Rousseff is clearly in thrall to the agricultural lobby, which is immensely powerful and influential, and seems prepared to simply ignore her obligations under the law.
“In these circumstances, it isn’t surprising that the Guarani are taking matters into their own hands. They desperately need support, or they are likely to be evicted and attacked yet again.”
A new paper by Corry, exposes serious flaws behind the long-standing claims that the Yanomami tribe of the Amazon are “fierce” and violent. The paper was published on Saturday by independent US news organization Truthout.
Professor Noam Chomsky has welcomed the paper, saying today, “I’m glad to see Corry’s demolition of the Brutal Savage myth. His new analysis of Chagnon’s role leaves little standing.”
The claims about Yanomami violence, promulgated by American anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon, are enthusiastically endorsed by popular science writers, Steven Pinker in the United States and Richard Dawkins in the UK.
Chagnon claims that the tribe (which he calls Yanomamö) lives in a state of chronic warfare, where most fights start over women, and 45% of males are killers. He claims that killers have a genetic advantage over men who have not killed.
His work is used to underpin the assertion that human society was much more violent prior to the creation of the state.
However, in his new paper Corry shows that:
– Chagnon wrongly represents his own data. Even if it is correct, which is unlikely, Chagnon inflates by one quarter the proportion of Yanomami who claim to have killed.
– Even taking Chagnon’s figures at face value, Yanomami violent deaths are fewer than in some industrial warfare, rebutting the central argument of Steven Pinker’s recent book “The Better Angels of our Nature”.
– Chagnon contradicts his own accounts concerning how and why the Yanomami raid each other.
– Chagnon leaped to his conclusions on his very first day with the Yanomami.
– Chagnon relies on exaggerated evangelical missionary accounts to support his theory. In turn, he welcomed the work of these missionaries and was dependent on them. His “Brutal Savage” beliefs accord closely with evangelical portrayals of “pagan” tribal life.
Stephen Corry said that “This is so much more than an academic spat: it’s a question of how we view our development. The idea that the “modern” state is “scientifically proven” to bring peace and prosperity is nonsense, but it’s now being used to justify the terrible cruelty it inflicts on the powerless. Chagnon’s false portrayals harm tribal peoples in general.”