Survival Wants to Save Brazil’s Last Nomadic Indians, the Awí¡

An Indian child’s body has been discovered in the Brazilian Amazon, in the state of Maranhão. An Indian from the Guajajara tribe came across the remains of the body whilst out hunting. The child’s age is estimated at about eight years old; it is unclear how he or she died.

This tragic and mysterious death highlights the desperate situation of a group of approximately 60 uncontacted Awá Indians, to whose tribe the child belonged. Probably the largest known group of uncontacted Awá, they live in a territory which, despite being officially recognized by the government, has been illegally invaded by loggers for 20 years.

The Awá have been forced to flee deep into the forest, and soon there will be nowhere for them to hide. They are easy targets for the (well-armed) loggers, and are likely to be exposed to fatal diseases.

In May 2005 the Guajajara came across a group of about 15 Awá in the forest who fled in terror, abandoning their bows, arrows and other possessions.

A team from the government’s Indian affairs department (Funai) has just gone in to the area to assess the situation and make contact, which in itself could lead to the transmission of fatal diseases.

Stephen Corry, director of Survival International, a human rights group that helps tribal peoples said, "The authorities have failed to protect one of the smallest and most vulnerable tribes in Brazil. They must act now to remove all the loggers and protect the area. If not, this group will be wiped off the face of the earth for ever, like so many before them."

The Awá are one of the last surviving nomadic tribes in Brazil and have suffered some of the worst persecution at the hands of loggers and ranchers; whole groups have been exterminated by gunmen. Today, some 250 live in four villages and about 100 remain uncontacted, living mostly in small family groups in the remnants of rainforest.

The Awá are often called Brazil’s last truly nomadic tribe. Their home is in the devastated forests of the eastern Amazon.

The Awá abandoned a settled lifestyle for a nomadic one in around 1800, in order to escape violent attacks by European invaders. Over the last 15 years, many have been contacted by Funai and now live in villages established by the government.

Others live a nomadic lifestyle without any contact with outsiders. All provide for themselves by hunting and gathering, and those who are nomadic are highly mobile, living in bands of no more than 20-30 people. As they travel, they keep the embers of their fires lit, relighting the fire as they arrive in each place.

Throughout the last 100 years, the Awá have been the victims of vicious and systematic extermination attempts by ranchers and settlers.

Many of those who are in contact with outsiders are the survivors of massacres and are severely traumatized – and we know that many more of the nomadic Awá are survivors of the same and similar attacks. They will continue to be vulnerable as long as their land has no protection.

In 1982, Brazil undertook to demarcate all Indian territories in the region as a condition of a World Bank loan for an industrial project, and World Bank money was put aside for this.

Yet even now, the Awá area has not been demarcated – and the increasing encroachment by industrial projects, ranchers and settlers is exposing the surviving Awá to violence and disease. The Awá are in severe danger of being wiped out altogether.

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