– A visit to an Indigenous community in Brazil, presents a story that not only needs to be heard or understood, but acted upon.
Indigenous peoples were here long before society as we know it existed and I am confident that they will be here long after our modern civilizations have gone, however in such consequential times, their future may be in our increasingly irresponsible hands…
When settlers landed on the shores of North America and in time destroyed the Natives way of life possibly for good, you would have thought we would have learnt to support and cherish such people and their knowledge, yet years later we continue to sabotage and disregard the people that really understand what it means to live with the planet.
So after living with an Indigenous community for the last few days, there is a story that needs to be told of a peoples who’s knowledge could be fading at the expense of our technologies.
The Indigenous tribe we visited, is an Aldeia community living on the Banks of the River Acre, which divides Brazil and Peru on Brazils most westerly point. They, like many other Indigenous groups from the area, care little for books, timelines or family trees and as a result, their histories and origins are available only in the form of speech and word of mouth, but one can only imagine how long ago their ancestors first settled in such a remote region.
To enter their now recognized and protected land (it is important to note here, that this is only the case on Brazil’s side of the River, as Peru are yet to recognize Indigenous rights) we traveled up river by boat with some ex-Indigenous members from Assis Brasil (the nearest road accessible town), but little did we know the reality of why they were ex- Indigenous, but we were about to find out..
It is no surprise that even the most culturally proud indigenous can often succumb to temptations of the comfort modern society tries desperately to retain and this was very much the case with our three boat drivers, as within minutes they were all horrendously drunk which made for an unsteady and unpredictable boat ride.
Sometimes a westerner, or Gringo as the Brazilians say, is irrepressibly naïve and that was the case with us in our adrenaline stricken moment to see indigenous. We had over paid our drivers, who had spent the extra on cleaning fluid with 96% alcohol, which they would then mix 50/50 with river water, as we found our selves in the middle of an unfamiliar land, on a river miles from anywhere and in the hands of three drunks.
As I accepted the situation, it began to dawn on me why they might be ex-Indigenous, but as we passed other communities and boatman along the way, they too indulged in the deadly cocktail our drivers had been consuming, my picture perfect Indigenous dream, was slowly being shattered by a far darker reality.
After spending the night in a community school building, with our mosquito nets as the only cover from various hand-sized tarantulas watching from the ceiling, we experienced our first Rainforest thunderstorm- that was spectacular. With lighting, thunder and rain that hurt to stand under.
The next morning presented a new driver and a sober one at that and as we reached the banks of the community that had welcomed us, almost 30 hours since living the nearest town, it was time to submerge ourselves in an unknown culture.
It felt wonderful be welcomed and expected and the whole community came out to meet us – they looked so intrigued and later we learnt that they had barely ever had outsiders visit- in fact for many of the younger members, we were the first white people they had ever seen in their lives.
Their land was beautiful (photos when I get back to Sweden), hand built huts from all materials straight out of their backyard (the forest), a well, a football pitch -I am now wondering if that is some sort of Brazilian human right…”Access to football”.
We cooked with them, ate with them, spoke with them and exchanged with them and apart from excessive mosquito bites and more tarantulas, felt the most at home I have been since being here. They speak a language I cannot even begin to describe, which apparently has no written form, but many have learnt Portuguese so communication was not all that difficult.
It is the women who tend the Banana trees, rice and other food plantations, whilst the men fish, hunt and build. Hunting is often monkey, however they choose to catch them young and tame them whilst fattening them up for the next feast or celebration- we were offered fried monkey fat for breakfast, I respectfully declined.
We helped them harvest rice and then met to speak about the communities dreams, the problems and the issues, and on taking the boat back the next day, only to lose the motor and send the last hour floating down in pitch black night, I had time to reflect on our adventure.
The only have one reality to go by, so I will try not to generalize, but the future of Indigenous peoples appears mixed. I encountered Indigenous who had little time for their culture or way of life and instead chose to forget their customs by indulging in drinking, whilst I also experienced a community, who’s primary concern was “the preservation and understanding of our ancient knowledge”. They saw themselves that it was fading and they saw a deep need to maintain and rebuild it, however, illegal logging from Peru, low water levels from climate change and either a lack of fish from excessive government fishing programs or cancerous fish from the oil sills up river had become immediate concerns and none of their forest knowledge could battle such evils.
If this is the reality, then maybe we will learn before its too late, because I imagine this is the case all over the globe for the Indigenous- the North American Natives had little control of their collapse and once they were recognized had little left and their culture is now left in books and stories, with sparse communities still clinging to their customs on the edges of huge megalopolis’s.
The Indigenous people of the River Acre, have time yet to return to their knowledge and value what mother nature has given and not what Modern development suggests, but they need our support and a charity donation may not be enough now.
Our technologies and lifestyles are sweeping through theirs like wild fire, not to mention our bulldozers and oil drills. No great evil was ever been eliminated by suppressing its symptoms, Not just for the sake of Indigenous, but for the sake of all knowledge, we must deal with the cause, because they can’t stop the logging, they cant stop the petroleum extraction or the fishing, but if we were able to change our lifestyles instead of forcing them to change, a future that incorporates Indigenous is possible.
Photo´s On The Way. Stay In Touch.