The Faces Of The Amazon: Here Are Some Of The Tribes Threatened By Brazil’s Dangerous Policies
The recent fires in the Amazonian rainforest put this region under the spotlight. Most of the conversations revolved around the ecological damage that the catastrophic fires produced and the corruption that led to unscrupulous land clearings. However, there was a direct human cost as well. Various indigenous groups that have been decimated since their first encounter with European invaders are now facing the threat of illegal industries and governments, such as the Bolsonaro administration in Brazil. The destruction of natural resources is not the only threat they face. They are also at risk of losing their cultural and religious identity as they are forced to learn Spanish or Portuguese and evangelization efforts are stronger than ever from many denominations.
Here are some of the indigenous peoples that call the Amazon their home. Please do us un favorcito: if you visit the Amazon and encounter some of the original owners of the land, please approach them with the dignity and respect you would like to be treated with. Don’t go back home calling them “exotic” or “weird.” If you want to photograph them, please be respectful and ask for permission.
The Amazon is home to indigenous communities that have survived traumatic processes of colonization by the Spanish and the Portuguese and then the mistreatment by governments that fail to protect their lands.
The original owners of the land of what is now the Amazon in Brazil, Venezuela, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Bolivia, and Guyana have a millenary relationship to the land and knowledge of the rhythms of nature from which we could all learn. However, they have historically been underestimated and controlled by governments and institutions that see them with a mestizo gaze.
Waorani peoples in Ecuador
They are also known as Waos and they are an Amerindian group that has marked differences with other indigenous Ecuadorians like the Quechua. Their community is relatively small: about 4,000 individuals who live between the Curaray and Napo Rivers. They were a hunting and gathering society and now have to live in settlements due to the threats of oil exploitation and illegal logging, two practices that have decimated their lands. They speak Huaorani, which has no known relationship to any other language.
The Waorani might be small in numbers, but they are combative and have recently filed court cases claiming the protection of their lands.
The Waorani have stood up for their rights recently, as the Ecuadorian government attempts to take control of their lands. As reported by U-Wire: “The legal battle over the rainforest was filed by the Waorani people in February. through the Ecuadorian parliament. Ecuador had been auctioning off blocks of the forest for logging or mineral extraction to international companies. According to Reuters, the tribe had been battling an on-going court case concerning the selling of sacred Amazonian lands to oil companies”.
Yanomami peoples in Venezuela and Brazil
This group is made up of approximately 35,000 people who live in the border of Venezuela and Brazil. There are between 200 and 250 Yanomami villages today. They practice shamanism, just like many indigenous Amazonian tribes that hold a spiritual bond with the flora, fauna, and soil on which they live.
By the way, the lives of the Yanomami are currently being threatened by illegal mining operations.
According to the BBC, “ there are ‘thousands’ of prospectors operating in the Yanomami indigenous land in Roraima.” The Yanomami have historically survived numerous threats, but their current situation is close to catastrophic due to lack of government protection under the Bolsonaro presidency in Brazil.
Tucano peoples in Brazil and Colombia
The Tucano people live in the northwestern Amazon, alongside the Vaupes River. They are made up of different tribes. They have a particular linguistic practice: no man can marry a woman who speaks his language. This practice creates a network of linguistic exchange that is quite unique in the world. Rather than an ethnic group with a distinct identity, the Tucano is a group of tribes put under an umbrella term for being geographically close.
Ticuna peoples in Brazil, Colombia, and Peru
They are the most numerous tribe in the Brazilian Amazon with a population of approximately 36,000 individuals. There are about 6,000 Ticuna in Colombia and 7,000 in Peru. They only marry and procreate within their ethnic group, which makes them quite distinct from other groups. They also practice shamanism. Most of them are fluent in Spanish or Portuguese and some of them have converted to Christianity as there are strong evangelization efforts in their region.
The Ticuna have suffered a lot since colonial times when they came in contact with the Portuguese.
During the 19th century they were used as slaves by the rubber cultivation industry. They have subsequently suffered violence from loggers, fishermen and other groups that try to exploit their lands. They are currently facing another threat that has decimated indigenous populations throughout Latin America: drug cartels. As EFE News Service reported in June 2017: “Near the triple border of Peru, Brazil, and Colombia, many members of the Ticuna Indian tribe are working as laborers for cocaine drug traffickers, a business that has transformed their lives and supplanted the activities and customs that some of them are now trying to salvage by returning to legal pursuits”. It has been hard for many Ticuna to go back to legal crops since the gains minuscule compared to coca crops.
Secoya peoples in Ecuador and Peru
They are also known as Angotero, Encabellado, Huajoya, Piojé, Siekopai. They speak Pai Coca and could be considered part of the Tucanoan group. They are a very small group compared to the Ticuna. There are about 400 Secoyas in Ecuador and 700 in Peru. Their culture is being decimated (some have the nerve to call this “assimilation” as if it was a positive thing) by the presence of oil companies, missionaries who convert them to Christianity and mestizos who occupy their lands.
Cubeo peoples in Colombia
The name “Cubeo” is a Spanish name used to call a group that calls themselves “people” (pâmiwâ) or “my people” (jiwa). They live in the Northwestern Amazon, alongside the Vapues river. There are between 3,000 and 5,000 Cubeo individuals. The Cubeo people, despite their low numbers, are outspoken when it comes to environmental matters. As CE Noticias Financieras reported back in 2018, a Cubeo representative told an assembly of European authorities: “It is not fair that we are looking for solutions to climate change and we are not thinking about how to protect the true forest keepers, who are us, the indigenous people”. That is absolutely right: the original owners of the land are the true and most knowledgeable when it comes to understanding the rhythms of nature and the best ways to protect it.
Long story short, we better start listening to indigenous communities. They know the earth and its resources better than we do.
Amazonians are fighting for the planet, not just for themselves. The idea that their future is also our future is absolutely right: the original owners of the land are the true and most knowledgeable when it comes to understanding the rhythms of nature and the best ways to protect it.